Monday, December 12, 2011

Phil Today Still Selling Tickets

Great old Phil photo's on the link below:

Website for this image

Phil was listless and without an appetite. He wouldn't gulp the orange soda that was his favorite treat. He spurned a gift of sugar cane and pushed away a cherry pie.

"Everyone is pulling for Phil," said George Vierheller, director of the St. Louis Zoo. "It's all very discouraging. We really are helpless."

Phil was Phil the Gorilla, the king of the zoo. For almost two decades, zoo patrons had flocked to his cage hoping to catch some of his antics. Sometimes he'd rip the shirt from his main keeper, Frank Florsek. Other times he'd suddenly bomb his human admirers with a mighty splash from his swimming tank.

Phil had lived at the zoo since Sept. 10, 1941, when Vierheller bought four young gorillas for $14,000. Captured in west Africa, Phil weighed 30 pounds when he arrived here.

In health, Phil's daily diet was 22 pounds of vegetables, chased down by two gallons of milk and an orange soda. But on Nov. 8, 1958, the zoo announced that Phil had stopped eating and was losing weight.

Newspaper updates came almost every day. When Vierheller said he was ordering sugar cane from Louisiana, Mamie Sturgis of 4332 Lindell Boulevard showed up with three stalks she had just brought home from New Orleans.

Phil wouldn't eat the sugar. On Nov. 18, he picked one cherry out of a pie and turned away. The next day, Marcella Hampel of Pine Lawn arrived with a custard pie. Phil snubbed that gift, too.

Caring people filled the zoo mailbox with ideas. A letter from Hong Kong suggested vinegar and water. Someone proposed hypnosis. A doctor wrote that someone should "sit down and talk to Phil."

On Nov. 30, zookeepers were encouraged that Phil drank milk and peach juice. The next morning, a zookeeper saw Phil resting on his floor at 8:30 a.m. A half-hour later, Phil was dead.

His death on Dec. 1, 1958, was front-page news. "He was one of my great pals," Vierheller said.

An autopsy determined death by ulcerative colitis. It also revealed that Phil, even with his fasting, weighed 776 pounds when he died, meaning he had been the largest gorilla in captivity.

The zoo hired taxidermists to preserve Phil's body for permanent display in the old Elephant House, next to today's Jungle of the Apes. The display opened May 11, 1959, and was a must-see exhibit for many years.

Later, it was moved to the Children's Zoo, then to the gift shop.

This year, Phil is back in the old Elephant House, now called Peabody Hall. He is a star of Zootennial, the zoo's 100th anniversary.


Jim A. said...

The 776 pounld weight has long been in dispute, even at the STL Zoo. I've heard they drove his body down to the scales in a pick-up truck, weighed it, and then weighed the truck empty. One story was that Marlin Perkins said Director Vierheller must have been sitting on Phil when they weighed him. Vierheller wasn't that big either but he was the Roland Butler of zoo promotion. Either it was case of excess promotion or really bad math.

Phil has been popular long after his passing. The tried a few times to let the mounted Phil move on taking him off display. There was always a call for his return. He was a good sized male lowland gorilla maybe even a little chubby but no 776, especially after a period of not eating. At Animal Kingdom we have five adult male gorillas that get weighed frequently (not in a truck). They range from 400 to 500 lbs. The 500 pounder is a very large animal and drops to about 450 in the summer season.

Two other male gorillas of the era: At his death, Gargantua weighed 312 lbs. Lincoln Park Zoo's Bushman was much larger.

Wade G. Burck said...

Thank you. I sure can't figure out some people getting their skivvies in a wad over the mounting of a "celebrity" dead animal. With people we display costumes, uniforms, weapons, and other assorted memorabilia to honor and remember them. An animal has none of those things, only it's physical being.