Friday, November 5, 2010

Philly Boo Zoo

Solitude image from Skyscraper Forum

Hey, Simon and Garfunkle knew it was all happening at the Zoo. Now, thanks to SyFy TV and the Ghost Hunters, we know it's the Philly Zoo that they were talkin' about.

America's First Zoo opened on July 1, 1874, after a long delay brought on by the Civil War; its charter was originally approved in 1859. And, of course, it was rumored to be built on a Native American burial ground.

The zoo staff has reported a wide range of ghostly activity over the years, including flickering lights, partial and full-bodied apparitions and black shadow-forms seen roaming the zoo's buildings paths.

That was plenty enough to tempt the TAPS team. The Zoo episode was filmed in early April, and aired September 1st.

First they checked out the Solitude House, which was built by John Penn, the grandson of city founder William Penn, in 1784. It's housed reptile exhibits, and is honeycombed by an underground tunnel system, which doesn't sound like all that great a combination to us.

Prior reports from the Solitude included sightings in the attic, a door that locks itself, disembodied footsteps on the stairs and voice in the basement.

The Ghost Hunters heard music and voices while in the tunnels and footsteps coming from above. One member had her hair fondled (or brushed by a spider web or dust bunny; take your pick) and the team heard the disembodied voice of a man, along with humming in the basement and a door slamming upstairs.

Then it was off to the Penrose Building, which formerly functioned as a research laboratory and vet hospital. Its phenomena included claims of lights going off and on by themselves and a woman seen in the library window. The best the GH could come up with was a cold spot.

The Shelly Building houses offices and classrooms, and featured reports of a face peering through a plexiglass window in the lobby and the sounds of doors opening and closing. The paranormal explorers couldn't get a face to pop up, but did hear some banging and a slamming door.

The Treehouse is the only remaining one-time animal pen, but after a long renovation is now used as a children’s exhibit hall. It's claimed to host an apparition and some visitors have reported uneasiness and the sound of disembodied footsteps. The TAPS team got a sort of knock-knock response from an unidentified entity.

The verdict? Enough interesting stuff to keep the tales alive, but nothing conclusive. It would be nice if the Zoo could put a name to its spooks; each place that was checked out has an apparition; is it the shadow of John Penn, an old lion tamer, a long-time docent or a Delaware looking for some peace?

And oddly, there are no animal spirits haunting the grounds, not that the critters would have much reason to stick around. If you want to visit unencumbered by an obligation to feed the monkeys, there are several sweet Halloween tours of the Zoo.

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