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The Philadelphia Zoo has a long and rich history as the Nation’s first-ever institute of its kind. Asides from the several dozen animal species, there are also rumors and claims of paranormal residents. Who seem to roam about the building throughout the location.

From disembodied footsteps, phantom sounds, and several full-body apparitions of spirits long past plaguing the zoo. The history is so ingrained with the city of Philadelphia. Still seeming to linger beyond the gates of our nation’s first-ever Zoo. Above all, if you have your own stories, or wish to suggest a topic for future discussion, contact us today.

Furthermore, if you’d like additional bonus content, consider Supporting the Patreon for monthly polls, bonus episodes, and behind-the-scenes content! View some other episodes and articles about ghost stories and paranormal entities right here!


The Philadelphia Zoo

The Philadelphia Zoo is located in the Centennial District of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On the west bank of the Schuylkill River, it was the first true zoo in the United States. Chartered by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on March 21, 1859; its opening was delayed by the American Civil War until July 1, 1874. The zoo opened with 1,000 animals and an admission price of 25 cents. For a brief time, the zoo also housed animals brought over from the safari on behalf of the Smithsonian Institution; which had not yet built the National Zoo.

The Philadelphia Zoo is one of the premier zoos in the world for breeding animals that are difficult to breed in captivity. The zoo also works with many groups around the world. Protecting the natural habitats of the animals in their care. The zoo is 42 acres in size and is the home of nearly 1,300 animals. Many of which are rare and endangered. Fun extra features also include a children’s petting zoo, a paddle-boat lake, a rainforest-themed carousel, a balloon ride; and many interactive and educational exhibits.


Short History of The Philadelphia Zoo

When the Philadelphia Zoological Garden first opened its Victorian gates on July 1, 1874. It welcomed in over 3,000 visitors and stood as the only institute of its kind within the new world. The zoo began with a wide array of species, containing 200 mammals including buffalo, deer, wolves, foxes, bears, and monkeys. As well as a few dozen bird species, and a little over a dozen reptiles. Reptiles and small mammals were housed in The Solitude, a mansion built by John Penn in 1785. A carriage house was located at the entrance for horses that had transported visitors to the zoo. The landscaping and architecture mimic a Victorian garden atmosphere that is still in the present zoo grounds.

The Penrose Research Laboratory was established in 1901. The first of its kind, the Penrose Research Lab helped contribute to a reduced rate of disease, among zoo animals. Along with increasing vigor, and longevity amongst species. 

The Philadelphia Zoo has helped make many strides when it comes to animal care, rehabilitation, and management. The institute has played a hand in some of the first successful births of several animal species within a zoo. They were also pivotal in the support of endangered species programs. Helping researchers or funding their own, in order to help assist species struggling or are on the verge of extinction.

Few timber stakes found by archaeologists at Woodland and Sedentary village sites in the Southeast suggest this. However, the possibility of timber fencing enclosures suggests that this tradition goes back further than those utilized in “Mississippian” towns; which dates between 900 AD – 1600 AD. For reference, these would be similar to the large timber stakes placed around Native settlements for protection.


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Deaths of Animals

In the early morning of December 24, 1995, a fire in the World of Primates building killed 23 animals. Including a family group of six western lowland gorillas; a family group of three orangutans, four white-handed gibbons, and ten lemurs. All were members of endangered species. The animals died in their sleep from smoke inhalation (carbon monoxide poisoning); none were burned. Ten primates housed in an adjoining building, the Discovery House, survived. At the time of the fire, detection equipment existed in only 20 percent of the zoo buildings; the primates building, which had been constructed in 1985, was not one of them. In the ten months following the fire, the zoo installed fire detection equipment in all animal buildings.

On December 29, 2016, Zenda, the oldest African lion in the U.S. zoo population, was euthanized following a sudden loss of appetite and failing health. Zenda was 25. On February 20, 2018, Goldilocks, a 37-year-old polar bear was euthanized after declining health including potential liver and spinal problems. The average age for a polar bear in the wild is 23 years.

Toi, a 21-year-old female Red-Shank Douc langur, was humanely put down on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018, due to a recent serious decline in health. 

Now, animal spirits are not the ones in reports with these locations. That being, animals have died throughout the Zoo’s history. So perhaps some sort of energy could still be stirring about. Animals are also on edge by the sorts of activity throughout the zoo. Activity that we shall dive into right about now.


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Ghost Stories & Legends

Philadelphia Zoo has rumors of resting on top of an Indian burial ground. Having several areas that are said to be rather heavy haunts due to this. Although I can not seem to find any firm evidence to support this, there is little to no documentation.

The Solitude House

First off, we have the building known as The Solitude House. Which was once used as the reptile house and erected in 1784. Predating the zoo around it, is said to have an array of strange phenomena. The sounds of phantom footsteps, voices, and old-fashioned music sometimes emanate out of nowhere. Often from the dark basement. There is said to be the apparition of a woman wearing a white dress who lurks about the stairway. A worker once went down to one of the storage rooms within the basement. Her flashlight caught a quick glimpse of a misty white figure. Although seconds after doubling for a follow-up glance, the figure was gone.

A woman is also reported to be seen walking down the staircase from the second floor, dressed in 18th-century attire. There are several reports of the attic light flickering on and off on its own when no one is in the building; the attic door has also apparently been locked without anyone’s knowledge.

Some guests have complaints of tapping or hair pullling by unseen hands. There is a ghostly male voice that purportedly tells people to go away. Many have come to believe this voice belongs to the spirit of John Penn, who originally constructed the building.

The Shelly House

Another haunted building at the zoo is the Shelley Building, which houses zoo administration offices and classrooms for various educational programs. Doors in the building open and close on their own. While a ghostly face allegedly has a habit of peering in through the windows. Staff members claim to have seen curtains moving around from an indoor window. Mainly from across the room while at the front desk, only to spot a face peering out.  

The Pennrose Building

There is also the Pennrose Building, a former laboratory and veterinarian facility that we mentioned earlier, established back in 1901. The building is prone to lights flickering, and turning on and off by themselves. Moving cold spots, and a supposed spectral woman wandering about throughout the building. Around 10 pm one night, a staff member was walking near the Pennrose building. When she looked up and spotted this female spirit in one of the windows of the library section. The spirit had long blonde hair and was emanating a bright white light around her body. When the staff member locked eyes with the spirit, however, the spirit simply backed away from the window slowly.  

Some reports seem to link the activity within the Pennrose Building, to that of a poltergeist. But that can also just simply be people lumping paranormal activity into a general term. 

The Treehouse Building

The last of the zoo’s more prominently haunted locations, is a place called The Treehouse. Which was once an animal pen but is now used for various events. The Treehouse is the name given to an overall building, to clarify things. It is not just some random treehouse within the zoo. The location is actually a rather large building. Housing a massive fake tree that kids can climb through go through slides, and such. Along with other attractions and small little areas for toys, large dino eggs, animals, and so on. The Treehouse building allegedly has ghostly footsteps all over the place. Plus a thick, palpable sense of uneasy that descends over those who come here. A sighting of an apparition walking around within the main room of the Treehouse building.


Additional Paranormal Reports

Besides these named locations, shadowy apparitions and anomalous noises, cold and unsettling sensations, human, animal, and less identifiable shapes. Heard all over the zoo grounds by both zoo staff and guests alike. Most activity seems to only arise at night, which stinks, no special encounters for your price of admission. 

This supernatural activity has made the zoo popular among paranormal researchers. An investigation during a 2010 episode of the Syfy channel’s popular paranormal investigative series, Ghost Hunters.

The crew definitely had their hands full, basically from the start. They had doors opening and closing, knocking and tapping disembodied noises, cameras moving, and a lot more. Won’t spoil anything, just go and watch it yourself, it is a very good episode.


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Explanations & Conclusion

Now obviously, a lot of these noises, knocking and strange sounds could be the dozens and dozens of animals within the facility. The Zoo is also located alongside two rather busy streets. It does go pretty far back away from them once you start heading deeper into the zoo. Noise can always travel and if it starts to get faint, then perhaps it could explain some of the tappings. Or banging-like sounds that don’t have explanations within the buildings or locations themselves; since they didn’t originate from there. 

The mist-like figure found within the basement of the Solitude building can also just be naturally occurring. It’s an old brick basement, that’s pretty damp and Philly does get both hot and cold. So perhaps the mist is simply just due to the humidity or some sort of draft within the tunnels. Even some of the tapping and noises have debunkings within the Ghost Hunter’s episode. As people move around outside, can cause faint sounds down in the basement tunnels.


Resources

Wikipedia | Philadelphia Zoo 

Mysterious Universe | High Strangeness at Haunted Zoos

Philly Inquirer | Ghost Hunters Investigating at Philadelphia Zoo

Haunted Philadelphia: Famous Phantoms, Sinister Sites, and Lingering Legends


Credits & Disclaimers

Episode 5 – First Nation’s Zoo | Philadelphia’s Haunted Zoo. Produced by Shane Cummings; Audio Editing & Research by Shane Cummings. Intro & Outro music “Creepy Regrets” by AnMo.

#CommissionsEarned As an Amazon Associate, we (Realm of Unknown) earn from qualified purchases.


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