Mary Elitch Long, 1856-1936

  • Mary-Elitch-Long-WWP

Woman Category: Arts, Business & Entrepreneurship, and MusicWoman Tags: Businesswoman

  • HerStory

    The first woman in the world to own and manage a zoo and an amusement park.

    Mary Elitch Long was born in Philadelphia and grew up in California. At 16 she fell in love with John Elitch Jr. – an older actor whom she met in a church. Despite her parents’ disapproval, the couple ran away to get married and settled north of Denver, where they bought an apple orchard. Elitch had a vision of turning the place into a cultural community resort, combining nature – a zoo and botanical gardens, and the arts – theater and live music.
    Her husband and partner in the enterprise died a year after the opening, and at the age of 34, she remained to manage the gardens on her own, at times partnering with investors. She was both a pioneer businesswoman, and a community activist, a member of various Denver clubs, such as Woman’s Press Club, Colorado Branch League of American Pen Women, and Camp Fire Girls of Denver. Elitch initiated weekly free-entry days for kids and the elder and hosted Native American arts and crafts classes.
    In Denver Elitch was famous and known as “Lady of the Gardens”, and later called “First Lady of Fun.” The Elitch Gardens became popular with an innovative program for its community: outdoor symphony concerts, showing first animated pictures, the country’s first summer stock company, hosting star actresses such as Ginger Rogers and French Sarah Bernhardt. When eventually selling the business, the conditions of the deal included that she will stay living on the grounds, plus a monthly stipend and boxes in the theater.

    “An ethereal being, almost a part of the sun-drenched blooms that so profusely decorated the grounds” – a memory of her, by a child visitor to the gardens.

    “An ethereal being, almost a part of the sun-drenched blooms that so profusely decorated the grounds” – a memory of her, by a child visitor to the gardens.

    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • Broadway producer and actress, Antoinette Tony Perry (later famous for “Tony Awards”), first performed as a teenager on the Elitch stage.
    • She was married and widowed twice, and never had children.
    • She was painting and writing, including publishing poetry for children.
    • In her five-page handwritten testament, she gave her most treasured belongings to her first husband’s niece, Minnie.


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  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Woman Tags: Businesswoman

    Mary Elitch Long, 1998 Colorado Business Hall of Fame

    This is a clip from the Colorado Business Hall of Fame of Mary Elitch. I know most, if not all of us have attended the old Elitch Gardens that was located on 38th & Tennyson or the new one located along Platte River. Another great profile from The Colorado Business Hall of Fame.

  • Mary Elitch Long, from a 1911 publication. Photo credit - Wikipedia.