Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sampson--Milwaukee Zoo

Sampson's death mask here

At 32 years, Samson died suddenly on November 27th, 1981 from a massive heart attack . A necropsy on his body revealed five previous heart attacks that had gone undetected. Unlike Sambo, Samson's body was retained for some time by the zoo. When the Museum received it, the skin and hair were unsuitable for standard taxidermy, but the skeleton was but on exhibit in 1996.


What happened to Samson, the 652 pound lowland gorilla so many Milwaukeeans used to watch with amazement at the Milwaukee County Zoo? Why isn't he on display for all of us to reminise about and relive the terror that big ape used to evoke when he would throw a temper tantrum and bang on the glass?

The short answer is he's dead (get over it) but the question remains about what happened to his remains. For years the moody gorilla was laid up in a freezer while others debated whether to display him and if so, how? Would he be stuffed and displayed in one of his angrier looking poses?

That decision was made for them when it was discovered that Samson had suffered from freezer burn.

Maybe someone didn't close his ziplock tight enough or maybe there was a hole in the bag, but once it was discovered that he was freezer burned that was it for Samson — he wasn't going to be stuffed.

His skeleton was displayed at the Milwaukee Public Museum in their Sense of Wonder exibit but now a taxidermist is creating a fake Samson. For those of us who remember Samson's meltdown's, it ought to be interesting to see if the taxidermist can capture his essence.


I believe that she has! I have viewed the exhibit twice since it opened and am now a museum volunteer. What a wonderful exhibit! His keeper, Sam, is often there….and he will share his enthusiasm for the job the taxidermist has done….as well as wonderful stories about his old friend (By the way, he will tell you that Samson had few actual meltdowns…..most of his antics were meant for his own entertainment, to see the crowd react) It’s interesting that the recreation of Samson, even though it is not complete (synthetic hair is currently being applied), truly looks like Samson……while Sambo(previous post below), complete with original hide, does not. Apparently his taxidermist was not attempting to make him look like himself…..just like a lowland gorilla in the wild.


Memories of Samson the Gorilla | Zoological Society of Milwaukee

Sampson gained fame basically for being a fat bastard, tipping the scales at over 600 lbs.(Jim, do you suppose Speidel was sitting on his lap?) and for constantly whacking the glass enclosing his exhibit. Geez....... The photo of Sampson above is one of the few available where is is not sitting on a scale eating.


Jim A. said...

Has I recall George Speidel was a pretty big guy and would have raised Sampson's weigh way up there. Also Sampson died suddenly, still eating daily, and not fading away like Phil. I saw Sampson a few times and he was fat (the days of a fat animal is a happy animal). We now know that many gorillas have hypertion, especially males. Old Sampson did pretty well for a fat guy with high blood pressure.

Anyone remember the "self-cleaning cages" in the Milwaukee Primate House in the 1960s. It was in the ceramic tile era, clean but sterile. Every hour or so the cage floors would automatically be flushed clean - like someone threw a big bucket of water across the floor.

Wade G. Burck said...

Many things like the ceramic tiles and self cleaning floors were not done with bad intentions. It was done with all good intentions. But like in my profession, if someone is declared the "Messiah" everyone will copy their mistakes as well as their successes.