America’s First Zoo

TAPS had a number of personal experiences and caught some EVP’s while investigating the Philadelphia Zoo. The zoo opened its doors in 1874 and was rumored to have been built on a Native Indian burial ground. Past reports of paranormal activity have included doors that open and close independent of human assistance, ghostly footsteps, lights going on and off, chills and apparitions, mostly showing up at night.

 Chief Operating Officer Dr. Andy Baker guided Jason, Grant and Britt through a number of hot spots all over the zoo. The TreeHouse, the only remaining original animal house had been built in 1877 and accommodated antelopes at one time. Today it is a colorful themed playground for children visiting the zoo.  Apparitions, disembodied footsteps and a strong feeling of unease had all been reported in the outwardly cheerful building.

The Shelley Administration Building provides both staff office space and public education classrooms. Staffers seated behind the front desk have experienced curtains moving behind an interior office window revealing the face of a woman.

Formerly used as a necropolis to examine the remains of zoo animals after they died, the Penrose Building provided a particularly startling full apparition to a female zoo staffer. The staffer reported being alone in the building library late at night. She looked up to lock eyes with the image of a woman with long blond hair. A white light grew behind the ghostly blond woman who started backing away from the staffer. The staffer broke eye contact and rapidly exited the building.

Philadelphia Zoo Board Member Jody Lewis had an unnerving experience with her young daughter in the tunnels under The Solitude Building built in 1884. Jody and her daughter were walking the tunnels alone late at night when Jody’s flashlight lit up an indistinct misty form.

The first floor of the Solitude Building had also been the location of reports of a woman dressed in 18th century garb walking down from the second floor staircase. The attic of the building had spawned reports of lights turning on and off by themselves and an unlocked door locking on its own. 

TAPS set up cameras in three locations in the Solitude Building. Cameras were set up in the attic to monitor the door that reportedly unlocked by itself, down in the tunnel where Jody saw the misty figure and one aimed at the first floor staircase. A single camera was set up at Penrose House.

Jason and Grant stared the investigation in the Shelly Administration Building. No plausible debunk for the woman behind the curtains in the office window was found.

As a medium, I saw the ghost of the woman behind the office curtains. She was middle aged with short brown hair done in a popular 1950’s style. She was smiling and upbeat when I saw her. She gave her name as Amanda and told me she had once been an administrator at the zoo.

While poking around Amanda’s office area Grant heard a sound similar to papers moving. He headed down the hall to investigate but found nobody there.

I had a brief glimpse of a man and woman dressed in 18th century formal clothing having argument in an office near the end of the hall. The man was angry and swept a pile of papers from a desk in the course of the bitter disagreement.

While still in the office area Grant and Jason heard what sounded like a metal door opening and shutting upstairs. Despite trying every door in the building they could not duplicate the sound.

Meanwhile Britt and KJ investigated in the Penrose Building. KJ heard some rustling noises coming from a corner outfitted with desks. Britt walked over to the desks and found the air to be considerably colder than the rest of the room. Despite the temperature change the noises stopped coming from the corner with the desks and seemed to move out to the hallway. As they guys walked into the hallway to investigate KJ had a personal experience of seeing the ghost of a woman peek out of an office door into the hallway.

I could see her in period dress. Didn’t get much else about her other than she was a young woman and curious about who Britt and KJ were.

Amy and Kris had some success in the TreeHouse, the old Antelope Building, in getting something or someone to respond to a pattern of knocking to the tempo of “Shave and a Haircut”. This happened a couple times and was recorded on their equipment. Neither of the girls had any sense of deep sadness while in the building.

The sadness came from a large animal but I honestly couldn’t tell what kind of animal it was. I only saw a large, indistinct shape on four legs. That wasn’t much help. The feelings of sorrow and hopelessness were generated by this animal because it knew it was caged for life in the building.

KJ and Britt also checked out the tunnel below Solitude House. Both guys felt an unseen presence moving around them and Britt noted hair had risen on his arms. They heard two solid knocks that seemed to come from the other side of the tunnel walls. The problem with that was they were underground. There shouldn’t have been any access to the other side of the tunnel walls.

 Although KJ and Britt didn’t see anything, I did. The ghost of an inquisitive old man was inspecting them. The old man said he had been called Jimmy and had been in charge of cleaning up the more unpleasant messes around the zoo. He showed me he was responsible for scooping up assorted animal poop and dealing with the remains of animals after they died and were dissected over at Penrose House.

At one time the zoo may have had a storage problem regarding animal remains because Jimmy showed me one of the tunnels stacked with large animal bones against the walls, leaving a narrow pathway for maintenance workers. I was hoping that particular glimpse was in the tunnels under Penrose House and not in the tunnel leading to the kitchen under Solitude House where Britt and KJ encountered him.

Jimmy was likely developmentally disabled. His view of the world felt limited. He had an almost child like, bold curiosity about KJ and Britt along with a strong sense of ownership of his patch at the zoo because he warned the TAPS members not to “mess up this place”.

KJ and Britt had a conversation that speculated about how much a floating mist might be able to see of them when they heard a disembodied sort of tuneless humming that Britt described as, “not quite music”. It was the ghost of Jimmy humming as he went about his job.

 I asked Jimmy’s ghost about the white mist that had startled Jody. He told me it was him Jody started to see in the beam of her flashlight. He didn’t intend Jody or her daughter any harm. His attention had been caught by Jody’s young daughter whom he described as a “pretty girl”. So he started to follow them down the tunnel.

Jason and Grant investigated the attic door in Solitude House that had reportedly locked itself occasionally. During walkthrough they had been told the door needed a skeleton key to be locked and unlocked. Instead they found a door that automatically locked when closed, no key needed. That discovery debunked the mysterious attic door reports.

The guys were startled when they encountered a portrait of a man leaning against the wall as they reached the top of the stairs. Shortly thereafter they heard the sound of fabric rubbing.

They had another jolt when their thermal camera perched at the top of a stair suddenly bumped down two steps on its own. Grant was sure he had placed the camera in a stable position.

Although Jason and Grant didn’t resolve the source of the sound of fabric rubbing I saw it was caused by the ghost of a young man in a formal business suit of over a century ago. He had just started his career with the zoo and told me he had managed to seriously screw up. He didn’t share the details of his disgrace but told me his office had been relocated to a tiny space in the attic as punishment. Jason and Grant encountered him moving boxes into his reassigned space. I felt badly for the young man as I could nearly see the black cloud over his head.

Interestingly Jason and Grant heard a scuffling sound right after the ghost of the disgraced young man told me his story. I think they heard him moving the boxes around, trying to make everything fit.

Kris and Amy took a shot at the tunnels under Solitude House. They heard a few indistinct noises and questioned what was located above them. Amy ran upstairs to figure that out while Kris stayed blow in the tunnel. While waiting for Amy to get into position, Kris felt something touching or brushing against her hair.  This time it wasn’t the ghost of Jimmy. I did see a vague, smoky form push at Kris’s hair at the same moment she reacted to it, but I couldn’t pick up anything else about it. Both Kris and Amy have attracted the attention of ghosts in past episodes, so perhaps something like that was going on. If I hadn’t seen the vague form I would have voted for droplets of water from the overhead pipes dripping condensation onto her hair.

Once Amy was in position above Kris in the tunnel below she jumped around a bit to see if she could duplicate the noises both women had heard earlier. She came pretty close according to Kris. So the gals likely heard someone walking overhead when they were both down in the tunnel.

While KJ and Britt were investigating in the attic of Solitude House they heard a loud, squeaky door closing behind KJ. However, nobody was there. Then they heard a bang or a crash KJ described as sounding like a table being thrown across a room. The guys went downstairs to the second floor to investigate the sound but found nothing. Britt commented that it was 20 degrees cooler than the attic. When I asked my guides why I couldn’t pick up on any ghosts around them I was given a factual debunk for a change. The loud noise KJ thought sounded like either a door slamming or a table being tossed across a room was the contraction of wooden beams as they cooled from the day’s heat. 

Wood can make pretty amazing sounds as it expands or contracts during temperature changes. A night spent on the wood hulled yacht Zodiac convinced me of that beyond a doubt. 

While poking around in the tunnels below Solitude House (in search of the mist named Jimmy) Jason and Grant were surprised to hear female voices in casual conversation. Next they heard music that Jason described as being some sort of old time waltz coming from the exit of the tunnel they were in. As they walked in the direction of the noise it all stopped.

What they heard was an echo of a party that took place long before their time. It was an 18th century garden party fundraiser taking place on the zoo grounds outside the tunnel. I saw beautifully dressed women with bustles behind their long, full skirts wearing extravagant hats on top of hair piled high on their heads. There was the clink of glassware and the chime of cutlery as waiters served the guests. The women Jason and Grant heard talking had been gossiping under frilly parasols

During the reveal Jason and Grant shared Kris and Amy’s knocking responses in the TreeHouse with Dr. Baker. They related their personal experiences of the party in the tunnel. (I was gratified when Dr. Baker commented nearly under his breath it could have been a fundraiser they heard.) 

Britt and KJ recorded loud slamming noise at Solitude House was presented. Their experience of having the front door unlatch itself was also shared.

Jason and Grant presented their debunk of the mysteriously locking attic door and talked about their thermal camera taking itself for a short walk down two stairs.

An EVP was captured when Kris and Amy were investigating the attic of Solitude House. A male voice said, “Where are they” or “Who are they?” It was a bit indistinct, but the best voice EVP of the investigation. Another EVP was shared that was interpreted as possibly saying, “Give it” in synch with a mechanical sound down in the tunnels below Solitude House.

The loud squeaking noise Jason and Grant recorded while investigating in the Shelly Building was identified by Dr. Baker as sounding exactly like the opening and closing of one of the gates to the zoo just outside the building they were in at the time.

 It was good to see Grant and Jason seemed to have gained back a measure of their enthusiasm for ghost hunting. As always, I enjoyed watching Britt investigate. I liked the respect he and KJ showed for the ghosts they were trying to interact with.



Lynne Olson can be contacted for private readings at:

(C) 2010 Lynne Olson. All rights reserved.

About Lynne Sutherland Olson

Professional Psychic Medium
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