Before the rest of the world fell in love with Bushman the gorilla at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo, the popular primate captured the heart of a little girl in Africa who helped care for him as a baby.

On Sunday, Winifred Smith, 92, and her family visited Bushman's stuffed remains at a Field Museum exhibit. The family Saturday also toured the Lincoln Park Zoo, where Bushman lived for 20 years before his death on New Year's Day in 1951.

The daughter of two Presbyterian missionaries, a young Smith lived in the West African nation of Cameroon for several years. One day when she was 8, a tiny, orphaned gorilla named Bushman came to live with her family at his owner's request, she said.

Smith and her four older sisters played with baby Bushman, fed him bananas and dressed him in baby clothes. Every night, Bushman slept in a large cage behind their home because "Mother didn't allow any animals in there besides us," she said.

"I loved him. He was my sweet little boy," Smith said as she and her family headed back to Cincinnati.

Bushman left Smith and her family a year later after his owner sold him to the Chicago zoo. But Smith never forgot her time with Bushman and visited Lincoln Park Zoo in the 1940s while on her honeymoon. She didn't like seeing her friend locked up in a cage.

Once Bushman settled in Chicago, the 550-pound giant ape became known for his temperamental attitude. Bushman threw food at visitors taking photos and acted moody when other primates stole the attention.

As a baby, Bushman was no different, Smith said. Once, Bushman grabbed her leg and sat on her foot after she grew tired of carrying him and put him down.

A few years ago, Smith's daughter decided to arrange a trip to Chicago so her mother could offer a final farewell. It took awhile for the outing to come to fruition, but her daughter is glad it finally happened.

"It's been a blessing," daughter Linda Hall, 58, said. "I heard so many stories when I was growing up. Being able to witness Mom see the exhibit for the first time.… It kind of came full circle."

jmdelgado@tribune.com