One Great (Birth) Day in NJ: Space Farms Zoo and Museum
Are you looking for fun? Are you looking for funky? You get both to the nth degree at Space Farms Zoo and Museum. We celebrated my daughter’s 7th birthday there this past Saturday with twenty of our closest friends and I’m glad to say that this extremely unusual pastiche of zoo/museum/life story has landed squarely on my Top Ten List of favorite places in New Jersey. Because, really, where else can you see reindeer, llamas, and a circa 1880 child’s hearse all in the same place? And for even more fab spots in New Jersey, check out our NJ Kids' Birthday Party Ideas Guide.
Space Farms Zoo and Museum is like a regular zoo in that it has lions, tigers and bears (as well as over 500 other animals), but that is where any comparison ends. Established in 1927 by Ralph and Elizabeth Space, the “zoo” began as a farm, general store and repair shop. When Ralph began trapping local predators (raccoons, bobcats and foxes) and his kids begged him not to kill them, Ralph found himself with quite a wild collection that was soon getting a lot of attention. The present day zoo has that same flavor, with the largest private collection of North American animals in their natural surroundings in the entire United States.
The “museum” aspect (my personal favorite) originated when Depression-era local farmers paid the Space family for their supplies and repairs with family heirlooms—dolls, toys, firearms, cradles and other items of local Americana. Over the years Ralph Space added antique cars, carriages, and wagons, (and the marvelously creepy child’s hearse), amongst hundreds of thousands of other items, including a fluorescent mineral theater and a complete miniature circus. Space Farm’s website photos really don’t do it justice--it has to be seen to be believed.
We were lucky enough to have my daughter’s party on “Junior Zookeeper Day” with the wonderful Zookeeper Lori (a third generation Space herself) taking the children from exhibit to exhibit. My daughter was able to feed a baby fawn with a bottle, give French fries to ring-tailed lemurs, hold a snake and kiss a llama, and at the end of the day, she and her guests received certificates as junior zookeepers. We had yummy chicken fingers and cheeseburgers in the large restaurant/main lodge, watched over by the imposing figure of Goliath, a 12-foot tall stuffed and mounted Kodiak bear who lived at the Space Farms Zoo from 1969 to 1991 and has the distinction of being in the Guiness Book of World Records as the world’s largest bear in captivity.
Listen, if you’re looking for a standard zoo for your child’s birthday party, look elsewhere. But if you’re like me, and your kid is like mine, meaning that you prefer the unusual, the off-beat, and the downright freaky fun, Space Farms is a great choice. We’re going back in September for a friend’s birthday party, and I can’t wait. Goliath is calling my name.
Space Farms Zoo and Museum is open daily from 9am to 5pm April thru October. Group rates/birthday party rates available. Call 973-875-5800 for more information.
Originally published 2011