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Hippo Christmas tune singer returns to Oklahoma City

Singer Gayla Peevey returned to Oklahoma City for the first time since recording her national hit “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” in 1953.
BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL Published: November 22, 2011

The childhood star who charmed the country with her 1953 hit “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” returned to her home state of Oklahoma to celebrate the holiday season.

Officials at the Oklahoma City Zoo hosted Gayla Peevey Henderson for a singalong with zoo visitors Sunday afternoon.

Visitors came from throughout the state, and one family came from Kansas, zoo spokeswoman Tara Henson said. After the first rendition, children were invited onstage to sing alongside Peevey. Visitors also signed a card for Peevey to commemorate the day, Henson said.

After the singalong, Peevey signed autographs for about two hours in the zoo museum, which features a new exhibit about Peevey and the zoo's first hippopotamus, Mathilda.

After Peevey and her song became famous, the zoo's director at the time kicked off a campaign to give the young singer a hippo. Peevey made the first donation — a $1 bill — to the $3,000 drive.

Mathilda, a 700-pound baby hippo, arrived from New York on Christmas Eve 1953. Peevey greeted Mathilda at the airport and then donated Mathilda to the zoo.

Because of all the interest in Peevey and her hippo, the zoo director organized a special event. The zoo opened at 1 p.m. Christmas Day for the public to see Mathilda. More than 10,000 people filed into the zoo to see a hippopotamus on Christmas.