Zoo Nebraska is the captivating story of a zoo in Royal, Nebraska (pop.81 75 59), a town likely forever associated with the zoo and the events that led to its downfall and eventual liquidation. It is the story of a dream impeded. It is the story of a community with bonds stronger than travesty, and prejudices harder than stone.
More than any of that, Zoo Nebraska is the story of Dick Haskin’s passion, and that is what makes this book so fascinating. Author Carson Vaughan does an amazing job of displaying Haskin’s passion from the beginning. Even though there are aspects of Haskin one may not like, it's difficult not to root for him. Here’s a guy on the fringe of society who truly has a noble idea in mind, an animal lover who compromises and compromises until little of his original intent exists. Out of a big heart set into motion in the 1980s comes a heartbreaking disaster twenty years later. What a great story!
Somewhere in the middle, Zoo Nebraska does get bogged down by the minutiae. Haskin’s role is reduced, and in comes a parade of incompetent leaders, all fighting for small threads of power. (It probably sounds more interesting than it is.) As each character grabs ahold of and pulls on their respective threads, the fabric of Haskin's dream, and the pride of a community, is unraveled.
Wonderfully researched and expertly told, Zoo Nebraska is the kind of story that almost seems better off as fiction. It's hard to believe this zoo really existed, let alone was the center of the stories that followed. I'm glad this story has been told, and that it has been told in a way that seems to respect the vision without delighting in the crimes.