Niagara Gazette — TOWN OF NIAGARA — The line of people snaked all the way out of the door of the Town on Niagara Community Center Sunday night.
The steady stream of folks had come to pay their last respects to Charlie the Chimp.
“This is very overwhelming,” said Christie Presti. “I can’t believe Charlie was loved this much by so many people.”
Charlie died on Nov. 4 in his sleep, leaving the Presti family and others across Niagara County feeling heartbroken. With his ashes in a ceremonial urn, hundreds filed past to remember a chimp who not only knew karate, but was also a star of television and movies.
“He was amazing,” Presti said. “One of a kind. He loved people.”
Displayed on the tables around the urn was the proof of that. A script for the TV show “How I Met Your Mother”, autographed by the members of the cast, and a DVD from the movie “Ghost Rider” which Charlie appeared in with Nicolas Cage.
The 28-year-old chimpanzee lived with Carmen and Christie Presti at their primate sanctuary in Niagara Falls. The couple are working to build a new primate sanctuary on their property in Wilson.
They had desperately wanted Charlie to make the move to a new home but he didn’t get the chance. He died from an enlarged heart, a common ailment for captive primates.
Charlie was taught by Carmen to communicate in sign language. The Prestis said Charlie enjoyed watching Animal Planet and Nickelodeon.
He ate tacos and had treats from Dairy Queen. He was, in many ways, like a human child.
It was no surprise then that he touched the lives of those who flocked to his memorial service. Among the mourners were a group of interns from the primate sanctuary.
“He was a blast, he was always really energetic,” said Marissa Micieli, who worked with Charlie for four or five months in 2012. “You get to know all the monkeys at the sanctuary, but this is difficult. Charlie was different.”
“He was awesome,” added Jenna Masecchia, another sanctuary intern. “He was sick when I was there, but he was adorable.”
The Prestis said in addition to all the people who came for the memorial, Charlie’s death has also impacted his adopted chimp brother Kiko. A rescue chimp who is near totally deaf, Kiko has now become the focus of the sanctuary interns.
“He’s doing OK,” Christie said. “Carmen and the interns are really helping him.”
But for Carmen and Christie it will take some time to move past Charlie’s death.
Christie recalled how she and Carmen would say good-night to their primates every night.
“We would call out to them and say ‘Good night,’ “ she said as tears welled in her eyes. “Charlie would always respond to that. The last night, his (voice) was so quiet, I knew it was the end.”