Nestled in the backyard of his modest South Broadway area house is the whimsical world of Bunnytown, USA, home to several bunnies and a Rube Goldberg-esque array of collectibles that Hartzer has melded together over more than 20 years.
“It’s an organic project between me and the rabbits,” Hartzer said.
It started in 1994 with a rabbit named Pedro – a gift from a Native American storyteller – some chicken wire and an old Zenith TV. Over the years Harzter added a wall to enclose the 300-square-foot space and “stuff” he’s found at thrift stores, in dumpsters, on roadsides, and odds and ends people have given him. At the core is a 1950s-era jungle gym and from there, it’s like one of those memory games where you have to recall a bizarre assortment of items; a model wooden biplane piloted by Bugs Bunny, a crowd of bobble-heads, an ironing board, a rocking horse, an old swimming pool slide, a pair of skis, a Superman doll, an old wheelchair, several road signs and a boat propeller. You get the idea.
Hartzer said the little space is like a sanctuary and he loves to watch the rabbits in the evening. Rabbits, like cats, are crepuscular creatures, meaning they’re most active at dawn and dusk.
They dig holes and hop around under the canopy of “the stuff,” which provides shade and protects them from the clutches of opportunistic hawks looking for a tasty rabbit dinner.
After Pedro, Hartzer acquired a few more rabbits and true to their nature, there have been many generations of baby bunnies since then.
Mother rabbits give birth underground, Hartzer explains. Their tiny offspring are born fur-less and with closed eyes. They emerge from their underground nest after about three weeks.
“It’s pretty magical to see when they pop up,” said Hartzer.
He adopts out the litters and occasionally adopts new rabbits. But they are hierarchical creatures and it’s not given that a new face will be welcome. Currently, Bunnytown has just five adult rabbit residents, two brownish Rex rabbits and three black-and-white English rabbits. Sadly, there haven’t been any bunny litters for several months.
“Not since the election,” Hartzer said. He’s mystified.
Bunnytown has been popular with school groups. Apart from watching the bunnies eat their preferred goodies like collard greens and carrots, the kids learn about garden composting. Rabbit manure is dry, odorless and rich in nitrogen and phosphorus. Hartzer has used the manure to create three garden spaces in his yard. A woman from Dallas, who found his website, even ordered some for her rose bed.
Hartzer is now retired from teaching and gives Bunnytown tours; appointments can be made on his website www.bunnytown.com.
Easter sometimes brings visits from neighborhood children dressed in their fancy outfits, he said, but Bunnytown doesn’t celebrate it in any special way.
“We have Easter every day,” he said.