St. Louis Zoo Halloween Display Sparks Controversy

ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) -Complaints Tuesday on the St. Louis Zoo Facebook page prompted the Zoo to remove a Halloween display that some complained smacked of racism.

Life size ghostly figures with black faces were hung from tall trees by the bear pits as part of the annual “Boo at the Zoo” Halloween celebration.  The nighttime Halloween event opens Friday and the display was designed to produce a faceless image in the dark.  

Wyndel Hill, St. Louis Zoo Vice President for Internal Affairs, said, “The faces are black so that at night the lights inside the faces would be the only thing that you see.”   He said it was never the Zoo’s intent to offend anyone.

“I don’t know that it looks derogatory towards anyone, by the same token however, if someone is offended by it,  it touches our sensibilities and we’ll remove it.”

Visitors to the Zoo on Tuesday generally liked the spooky display and did not see it as a lynching scene.  But the still photo on the internet showed the figures hanging lifelessly from tree branches.

In person the figures had more animation as light breezes made them appear to be floating.

One Zoo visitor compared them to characters in the Harry Potter novel series known as “dementors.”   An African American from Ballwin saw the figures as merely ghosts.  When asked about the racism questions he said, “That don’t bother me; that’s trouble makers.”

“I didn’t think that way at all; we were just thinking ghosts and Halloween,” said a young mother who is also black.  ” It didn’t enter my mind until you just brought it up.”

But several of the Facebook commentators likened the Halloween display to images of slaves who had been lynched.

Zoo officials said half the Facebook comments were positive and half were negative.  They promised to remove the display, but did not know if the company that designed it could modify the faces to avoid any objections.

“Boo at the Zoo” is an annual Halloween celebration in which the Zoo opens at 5:30 pm for nighttime visitors and Halloween related exhibits and activities.  The program runs from Thursday through October 30th.

For more information go to http://www.stlzoo.org/events/calendarofevents/booatthezoonights/.

Betsey.Bruce@tvstl.com
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