By Joe Pike
It was an exciting weekend at Cornell University in 1955. Gerry Grady and his friends were enjoying several parties across campus, so much so that at the end of the weekend one of Grady’s party mates gave him a parting gift to remind him what kind of behavior he had exhibited those days — a toy monkey. Grady laughed and accepted the gift, but had no idea that the symbol of a great weekend would end up inspiring others to see the world.
When Grady enlisted in the Army’s Corps of Engineers after graduation, he was stationed in Germany and quickly made friends with several desk officers who had a passion for weekend getaways. It was during those weekend getaways that Grady began the trend of taking that toy monkey and placing it in front of famous landmarks and snapping pictures for his loved ones back home.
“I was surprised to find out how expensive it was to send postcards back to the states. Sending my own pictures was more affordable and I thought that everyone would get a kick out of seeing the monkey in front of all the places we went,” said Grady.
Grady’s friends and family certainly did get a kick of seeing the monkey in front of some of Europe’s most famous landmarks, but Grady and his companion were actually doing much more than getting a few laughs — they were making a statement about the importance of being a citizen of the world and inspiring others to seek adventure.
“People aren’t so different,” said Grady.
Long time family friend and University of North Florida professor Dr. Elizabeth Paul, EdD, was so inspired by the places Grady and his monkey had been that she asked to borrow the monkey and proceeded to travel across Europe with her children, often stopping to snap pictures of the monkey in new locations.
“Everyone I share the story with is fascinated how it came about,” said Paul. “It’s such a happy story.”
Paul is currently attempting to publish a children’s book about the monkey’s various journeys. Her hope is that it will inspire children to learn about the world and create a desire to explore the world around them.
“It’s like Elizabeth [Paul] said,” remarked Grady. “You can see Istanbul on a map, but until you go there it’s just a dot.”
All monkeying around jokes aside, Grady’s tradition is about more than funny pictures. His travels with this toy monkey represent the wanderlust that rests within everyone. There is a big, fun, amazing world out there and it deserves to be seen by anyone who has the means.
It may have started out as a joke, but acting like a monkey can sometimes make you the most human.
Photo courtesy Joe Pike
Gerry Grady holding an illustration of his toy monkey visiting famous landmarks.