belleisleaq

Belle Isle Aquarium

Image: An employee of the Belle Isle Aquarium cleaning a lake sturgeon, ca. 1920. From Walter P. Reuther Library.

Click here to see all narratives about Belle Isle

Click here for more information about Belle Isle’s architectural features

Click here to see resources for further reading on Belle Isle

The Belle Isle Aquarium was approved by the Detroit Park Commission in 1898, and built in 1904. The aquarium very quickly became the most popular attraction on Belle Isle. On opening day, the line for the aquarium stretched from the front doors all the way across the Belle Isle bridge and onto East Jefferson Avenue. 5000 people visited the aquarium the first day. In the 1911 to 1912 year, 871,062 people visited the aquarium. During the Great Depression, the aquarium basement doubled as a popular Detroit speakeasy. The aquarium maintained its popularity through the Great Depression although it did have to get rid of its saltwater tanks due to the excessive cost of running them. They also had to sell one of their most popular creatures, a sea turtle named Big Pete, they sold Big Pete to a market where he was turned into soup. The popularity of the aquarium kept it open for decades. However in 2005, after being open for over 100 years, the aquarium had to close. In 2012, due to the dedication of Belle Isle volunteers, the aquarium was able to reopen to the public.

belleisleaqq

A sea turtle, very likely the ill-fated Big Pete, being unloaded and transported into the aquarium in the early twentieth century. Image: http://historicdetroit.org/galleries/belle-isle-aquarium-old-photos/

  • Belle Isle Aquarium,” Detroit Free Press, December 30, 1898
  • Dan Austin, “Belle Isle Aquarium,” historicdetroit.org

Click here to see all narratives about Belle Isle

Click here for more information about Belle Isle’s architectural features

Click here to see resources for further reading on Belle Isle

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