Love Bug! From Staten Island Zoo to southern Delaware

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Georgetown resident Dennis Hall points to one of the insects in his collection on display at the Rt. 13 Outlets Market.

GEORGETOWN — Georgetown resident Dennis Hall doesn’t mind being bugged one bit.

Actually, it is one of his passions.

“Yeah, I don’t mind being bugged,” he says with a chuckle. “My two loves are everybody else’s hatred, or things that they dislike. My loves are insects and reptiles. They are the two things I like the most, and most people don’t like.”

For 33 years, he worked at the Staten Island Zoo.

“I worked with the snakes and the reptiles,” said Mr. Hall. “Our zoo was world famous for our reptile collection. We had the largest rattlesnake collection in the world. We had all 32 species and sub-species of rattlesnakes.”

His passion for that portion of the animal kingdom that many find “creepy” is on display in his extensive collection of insects, reptiles, vertebrates and invertebrates at the Rt. 13 Outlets Market. There, not far from entrance No. 21 at the outlet complex, he operates his Hall Framing business.

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At age 72, Mr. Hall will continue with his work his trade, hobby and passion as long as Parkinson’s disease progression allows.

“I am not going to be able to do this too much longer. I’ll do it as long as a can,” said Mr. Hall. “I enjoy it. Right now it keeps me going. It’s better than just watching television. And that is the worst thing you can do anyway with Parkinson’s. With Parkinson’s you are better off if you are moving around and doing things. I go to the gym three days a week, Powerhouse Gym in Seaford. I try and keep it up.”

Mr. Hall is also a musician. He was drummer for a band called The Careless Five back in the doo-wop era. Most notable among their handful of records are “Summertime” and “(Do You Love Me) Tell Me Right Now.”

Scores of scrapbooks are filled with newspaper clippings of show appearances and zoo features.

So to the theme of Jim Stafford’s 1974 hit “Spiders and Snakes,” here is Dennis Hall.

How about family?

“I’m married; wife Barbara and three kids, two girls, one boy.”

When did your passion for insects begin?

“When I was a kid I used to collect a lot of everything, everything you could think of. I had a little room that was filled with about 24 tanks with lizards and snakes and fish and all of those types of things.”

“Then I got a job in the Staten Island Zoo. Around 1972 a friend of mine and myself wanted to put a little insect exhibit together. So we set up about five or six tanks with live insects. We were probably one of the first zoos in the United States that ever had insects, live insects. Most of them do like reptiles, fish.”

“Around 1985-86, I was hired to do a job in the Staten Island Museum. There was an insect exhibit that we were working on, over 250 butterflies.”

When did you come to Delaware?

“I retired. I came down here about 16 years ago, from Staten Island, New York. When I moved down here I said, ‘I want to start my insect collection again.’ Only I wanted to do it differently. I want to set it up as like a museum for the kids. But I can’t call it a museum.”

Your exhibit has a definite Delaware theme. Featured in your collection of once-living creatures: the Eastern Hercules Beetle, the largest member of the beetle family found in Delaware; and the Cicada Killer, the largest wasp, and scores of butterflies:

“I wanted to mainly try and concentrate on a lot of the Delaware insects. Vertebrates, invertebrates, crustaceans, I wanted to show a little of everything. Almost all of the Delaware insects, I caught with the exception of a few of the butterflies because they are so rare. You hardly ever see them. Those I had to purchase.”

Through your work at the zoo, you appeared on “Regis,” “The View,” “Wide World of Sports” and cable networks in New York and New Jersey. What was the “Wide World of Sports” connection?

“There was a prize fighter on there. His name was the Black Mamba. We did a whole thing on the black mamba. I showed them a black mamba and how they strike.”

During your zoo tenure you were drafted during Vietnam, but your service kept you connected you to insects?

“Around 1967 I was drafted into the service. I was at the jungle operation training center in Panama, the jungle survival school. This is what I did. I ran the animal section. I got really lucky. And when I came out of the service I went back to working at the zoo.”

“I played in the band with this fellow whose father owned a large insect collection. I ended up buying the whole collection. There was probably about 65,000 to 70,000 specimens in the collection. I bought the whole collection. Then I opened up a store right down the street from the Staten Island Zoo. I called it Butterflies and Other Insects. Maybe four years later I got married. And then I sold the collection.”

When can people see your exhibits?

“The outlet market is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Most people don’t even know it’s here.”

Your skills created donation boxes and the RCA Victor Dog display at the Marvel Carriage Museum in Georgetown?

“I do a lot of framing and dry mounting and stuff like that.”

6 HALL Framing

How about your other passion: music?

“Early days, some of the groups I worked with were the Coasters, the Chiffons, the Elegants, Jay and the Americans, Dion and Belmonts, the Dixie Cups. I played drums.

“The first one I ever worked with was the Chantels (whose big hit was “Maybe”). Then the one after that was The Five Satins. Some of them I backed them up, and some of them I played in the shows.”

Your framing business features many collectible treasures, including many from New York Yankee legends:

“I was lucky because I got to meet them all. I met (Joe) DiMaggio. I met (Mickey) Mantle, I met them all, all of the Yankee old timers.”

Is there a twist of musical trivia?

“We were playing at this club. Our singer, Jimmy Anderson, his voice was so high. The group that was playing across the street from us was the Four Lovers, then they became Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. They came over and listened to us. They heard Jimmy singing. They offered him a job. They wanted him to sing with them because his voice was higher than Frankie Valli’s.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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