In 2016, Harambe, a western lowland gorilla, met a tragic end at the Cincinnati Zoo when he was shot and killed after he grabbed a three-year-old boy who had fallen into his enclosure. This incident, marked by both genuine outrage and a surge of online memes, left an indelible mark on popular culture.
Harambe became the quintessential meme of 2016, an internet sensation that refused to fade into obscurity. This enduring legacy prompted a peculiar incident in Mauldin, South Carolina, where an anonymous Google Maps user named a newly constructed bridge the “Harambe Memorial Bridge,” all without official approval.
While the death of Harambe was a deeply sad event, the internet’s response to it took on a more lighthearted and humorous tone. Memes, by their nature, tend to have a brief lifespan, but the decision to rename a bridge in honor of Harambe was a well-orchestrated jest.
At the site of this unofficially christened bridge, a makeshift memorial was established. It featured framed images of Harambe, an array of stuffed animals, floral tributes, candles, artwork, and even a cigarette and a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. These unconventional additions were clear indicators that this was a local prank designed to amuse.
Mauldin’s city officials, however, did not share in the amusement. They had organized a contest to determine the official name for the bridge, with a set of rather uninspiring naming criteria. The proposed names included options such as Mauldin SkyWay, Mauldin Archway, Mauldin Highway Overpass, Mauldin Gateway Bridge, and Mauldin’s Palmetto Pathway.
The city was resolute in its stance that the humorous bridge renaming would be short-lived. Once the bridge construction was completed, the on-site memorial would be removed. By October 16, an official name for the bridge would be chosen, and it was abundantly clear that Harambe’s name would not be the one selected.