I was in Seattle when Washoe, the wild-caught chimpanzee from West Africa who’d been taught American Sign Language in the 1960s, passed away at age 42. What intrigued me was the media response. Washoe was accorded a long, front-page obituary in the Seattle Times, written not by an intern or junior reporter, but rather the paper’s higher education writer. Of course, in her later years, Washoe had become a local of sorts. She lived on the other side of the Cascade mountains from Seattle (the sunny side) at Central Washington University in Ellensburg. (Mad Cowboy and Voice for a Viable Future president Howard Lyman also lives in Ellensburg. I wonder if these two ever met?)
The New York Times also ran a substantial obit, with a large photo, in its main news section. It described, rather remarkably and rather sweetly, the circumstances of Washoe’s death. She was in bed, “surrounded by staff members and other primates who had been close to her….” In death, Washoe was accorded something akin to personhood — something not quite accorded her in life. No details, however, were provided on burial arrangements. But, the Seattle Times did report that a memorial service for Washoe was planned, organized by Friends of Washoe. It was held November 12. Friends is hosting a tribute page to Washoe on its Website.