Hattiesburg Zoo takes visitors back to Renaissance


Ashleigh Jambon and Aaron Maliden perform at the Hattiesburg Zoo Renaissance Festival.

People of all ages went to the Hattiesburg Zoo from Feb. 29 to March 1 to craft candles, learn apothecary and watch Shakespearean theater at the yearly Renaissance Festival.

The Hattiesburg Zoo was packed with families and lovers of the Renaissance during this family-friendly weekend affair. With its past few years of rebuilding and rebranding, the Hattiesburg Zoo has created events like their Renaissance Festival to attract new visitors to its steadily-renovating zoo. 

The zoo hosted a number of booths that were decorated with dramatic fonts and vendors dressed in varying types of Renaissance garb. Apart from seeing the traditional zoo exhibits, festival visitors could get knighted at an event that took place at the end of both days. Visitors who wished to be knighted had to watch a play at Queen’s Court, learn a trade at the Crafting Circle, hit a target with an arrow at Ye Olde Games and get officials’ signatures at each station.

Senior elementary education major Ashleigh Jambon was one of the actors who got to sign soon-to-be knights’ papers after finishing her performance in a mashup of “Romeo and Juliet,” “Hamlet” and “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Jambon, along with Southern Miss alumnus Aaron Maliden, acted in the lead male and female roles of the 10-minute Shakespearean mashup that was performed at the top of every hour. 

“It’s really fun being here and seeing all the costumes and all the kids dressing up. After we do our show, everyone comes up to get signatures and sometimes they want pictures and sometimes they just hug you because you’re a princess,” Jambon said. “They don’t understand what you’re saying, but they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re famous. They’re on stage.’ It’s so cute.”

Maliden, Jambon’s scene partner, had similar comments about the event.

“It’s good to be able to keep acting and have the zoo that constantly does things like this to kind of draw the community in, I’ve always appreciated that,” Maliden said. “They’ve done a really good job at throwing events, bringing people in and sort of fostering that community.”

People from across the state came out to the Hattiesburg Zoo just for this weekend of Renaissance-related attractions. Dressed in a dark velvet cloak for the occasion, Mary Snowden who is from Meridian, said she thought the Renaissance Festival would be a fun time to dress up and experience her first trip to the Hattiesburg Zoo.

“I’ve been saying I’ve been wanting to come to the zoo down here for a few years now, and I just never got down here, but today we did,” Snowden said. “I had a really good time looking at the lemurs play because they’re having such fun today. All the animals seem to be out because it’s just such a pretty day.”

Apart from theater-watching, candle-making and apothecary-learning, visitors could drink enchanted tea, eat a giant turkey leg, watch a hoop show, learn the art of butter churning and more. While the event may have been kid-centric, it had something to do for all ages, with its inclusion of a wine tasting room and the alcoholic beverage station located right beside Queen’s Court, where the plays took place. 

Hattiesburg Zoo held this year’s Renaissance Festival while the under-construction giraffe exhibit nears completion, expected to be open to the public by the end of 2020. For Snowden, it might mean another visit is coming up soon.

“The zoo is pretty nice. I’m really excited for the giraffe exhibit coming,” Snowden said.