Saturday, June 29, 2013

You Are Hereby Admitted to the CooCoo-Nest

CooCoo-Nest sign on top of the rocket shaped concrete tower in the fountain in front of the hotel.  The sculpture is by President Tubman's son
There is a place in Liberia whose name may remind you of the famous novel by Ken Kesey that was later made into the Academy Award winning film starring Jack Nicholson.  The similarities between the fictitious "Cuckoo's Nest" ruled by Nurse Ratched and the actual place in Liberia end at the name however (at least I assume).  The place in Liberia called the "CooCoo-Nest" is an actual hotel that is steeped in Liberian history and is found on the Gbarnga road coming out of Monrovia near a town called Totota.  

The CooCoo-Nest Hotel as seen from the playground/swimming pool area

The CooCoo-Nest is named after Liberian president William V. S. Tubman's daughter, whose name was Wilhelmina "CooCoo" Tubman.  On the other side of the road from the Nest is the CooCoo-Nest Cafe and both of these sit just south of the elephant tusk gate of her father's famous mansion where there was once a zoo.  (I visited the Tubman Zoo as a child during Tolbert's presidency). All of these properties together were called "Tubman Farm" and they still are today so known as there is presently an active rubber tree plantation on these 6,000 acres of land (2,000 acres still undeveloped).  There are some interesting research papers to be found about this farm at Indiana University's William V.S. Tubman Papers Collection (check out boxes 17, 18, & 19 for documents on the farm).

I would hold that the CooCoo-Nest pool hasn't been cleaned or chlorinated in quite some time.

Close up of the CooCoo-Nest pool accomodations

Pool with Hotel in background

CooCoo-Nest Pool house

CooCoo-Nest Pool with the elephant tusk gate entrance to the Tubman Mansion in the background.

Front porch of the CooCoo-Nest Hotel
Today the property is owned by the Tubman family and the plantation part is managed as well by Tubman cousins.  However, the CooCoo Nest and Cafe are being leased by the Tubman family to a Lebanese businessman name Tony Hash.  During recent UN involvement in the area there were some UN police force trainers from the US that stayed at the CooCoo Nest and another Lebanese hotelier that ran the place.  Both the cafe and hotel did good business even after the Civil War, but since the UN forces have pulled back resources the place is extremely quiet and low key just slowly decaying in the heat of the Liberian humidity.  One local told me that the hotel hasn't had a guest in about 5 months.  I've been told that many dignitaries have stayed at this hotel in the past and in recent history President Sirleaf-Johnson has stopped by on several occasions to eat and ask about the welfare of the Tubman family.

The front gate to the CooCoo-Nest Hotel is currently barricaded.  

The storage building behind the hotel is slowly fading into the jungle

Front doors to the CooCoo-Nest hotel

The CooCoo-Nest Fountain
The fountain at the Hotel has a sculpture at the top of a bird's nest along with the words "COOCOO-NEST".  It appears to be bronze and was supposedly sculpted by one of President Tubman's sons who was an aspiring artist.  He was called "Mollie" Tubman by the locals and I wonder if he might be the William Eli Tubman who passed before his father?  His widow, President Tubman's daughter in law, is the "Old Ma" at the Cafe across the street.  She prepared some food for us that we had purchased at the Totota Market and was very friendly.  Her husband, the President's son, had died after complaining of pains one Thursday night after a day of drinking palm wine.  That Friday morning he was rushed to Monrovia from his home not far from the CooCoo-Nest and expired some time after.  

The CooCoo-Nest Cafe is across the road from the Hotel
My dad and Eric Wowoh of Change Agent Network chilling at the CooCoo-Nest Cafe.  
There was only Nescafe instant coffee for breakfast and all food on the menu was unavailable.  Fortunately we had brought our own food from market and President Tubman's daughter in law was very hospitable in preparing us our lunch.
The CooCoo-Nest Hotel as seen from the Cafe across the road
Like so much of Liberia's historical treasures it appears this site is destined to decay along with other crumbling Tubman era edifices like the Tubman Cultural Center in Robertsport.  If you want to stay at this historic site there are rooms available so I'm told and they actually have "air cool" as air conditioning is called in Liberia.  If you want to eat at the cafe you better head over soon as it has the infamous yellow X of the MPW on the side.   I'll post more about the MPW "X" at a later date.  Until then, I hope you enjoyed these pics of Liberian glory as it slowly melts away under a fog of tropical heat, foliage, and neglect...

This jungle gym is becoming more jungle than gym.  
This was taken at the children's playground near the pool at the CooCoo-Nest Hotel.

Swing set sans swings (say that 3x fast) at the children's playground near the pool at the CooCoo-Nest Hotel.
View of the front gate of the CooCoo-Nest Hotel

Possibly an area that once greeted guests to the hotel.  Located by the circle drive in front of the CooCoo-Nest Hotel.

The CooCoo-Nest Fountain appears to have been dry for quite some time


  1. Wow. Lots of sadness in those pictures.

  2. I agree Nathan. The legacy left behind is tinged with sadness. The nearby deteriorating mansion is rather eerie as well. I hope to get those pics posted up here soon as well. Thanks for reading!

  3. What a difference to Hotel Central!

  4. :-) Yes indeed! The breakfast buffer was better at Hotel Central as well...

  5. I just visited Liberia earlier this year and came across the CooCoo's nest on our way to Ganta. The stories my mother told about this place sounded so magical and beautiful. But when we passed by I was astounded how such a beautiful part of history can be forgotten and lost. It is very upsetting to see.