Look Back: Phil the gorilla
Date: 11/25/2010 Album ID: 1123757
Photos by St. Louis Post-Dispatch staff photographers
Phil the gorilla weighed 30 lbs. when he arrived at the St. Louis Zoo on Sept. 10, 1941, and for almost two decades, patrons flocked to his cage hoping to catch some of his antics. Sometimes hed rip the shirt from his main keeper, Frank Florsek. Other times hed suddenly bomb his human admirers with a mighty splash from his swimming tank. He died on Dec. 1, 1958, and his stuffed remains now reside at the old Elephant House.
Young Phil the Gorilla with Phil Carroll, a globetrotting animal merchant, in September 1941, shortly after Phil arrived at the St. Louis Zoo weighing 30 pounds. Carroll captured Phil in west Africa, and became the new arrival's namesake. Phil was one of four young gorillas that Zoo director George Vierheller bought that month for $14,000. He soon became king of the Zoo, a must-see on any visit. (Post-Dispatch)
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Phil (left) being chased by Mattite on June 14, 1943, the first day they were allowed to play togehter. Mattite became Phil's mate. She died in 1948. (Post-dispatch)
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Frank Florsek, Phil's favorite keeper, watches through the cage bars on March 16, 1951, to deter Phil from scratching an open wound on his heel. Florsek used the air rifle every time Phil scratched or bit his heel. Phil was known for playing pranks on Florsek. One of his favorites was to rip shirts off his keeper. (Post-Dispatch)
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Phil relaxes on the floor of his cage in December 1953, when zookeepers estimated his weight at 525 pounds. Phil ate 22 pounds of vegetables every day, chased down by two gallons of milk. (Jack Gould/Post-Dispatch)
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Phil strikes a menacing pose for visitors on Aug. 14, 1954. Phil was known for mischief. One of his tricks was to let visitors move closer to his cage, then suddenly douse them with a big splash from his swimming tank. (Post-Dispatch)
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Wallace Kirkland, a photographer for Life Magazine, moves in close to Phil during a shot in September 1954. Kirkland took 300 pictures of the king of the St. Louis Zoo. (Edward Burkhardt/Post-Dispatch)
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Phil nails Kirkland with one of his trademark splashes. (Edward Burkhardt/Post-Dispatch)
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Zoo director George Vierheller gives Phil a snow cone in July 1955. When Phil died on Dec. 1, 1958, Vierheller said, He was one of my great pals. (Robert Holt Jr./Post-Dispatch)
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Phil shows off his admirable heft and power in August 1957. The Post-Dispatch used this photograph on the front page of its Dec. 1, 1958, editions with the story reporting on his death. (Lester Linck/Post-Dispatch)
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Zoo director George Vierheller gives Phil one of his favorite treats, an orange sode, in May 1958. Zookeepers knew something was wrong the following October, when Phil stopped eating and refused his daily soda. (Lester Linck/Post-Dispatch)
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Phil declining to eat a gift of fresh sugar cane on Nov. 17, 1958. After the Zoo announced that Phil was ailing and refusing to eat, updates on his condition became almost daily fare in the newspapers. When Zoo director George Vierheller said he was ordering sugar cane from New Orleans, Mamie Sturgiss of 4332 Lindell Boulevard drove over to the Zoo with three stalks she had just brought home from New Orleans. But Phil wouldn't bite. He died two weeks later. An autopsy blamed ulcerative colitis. (Edward Burkhardt/Post-Dispatch)
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After Phil died, zookeepers hired taxidermists to preserve his body. It went on display on May 11, 1959, in the old Elephant House, then next to the old ape house (current site of the Jungle of the Apes). Paying respects to Phil was a regular feature of zoo visits for many years. Later, Phil was moved to the Children's Zoo and later the gift shop. It's back in the old Elephant House, now known as Peabody Hall. Once again he's a star of the Zoo for its 100th anniversary, called Zotennial. (Post-Dispatch)
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Zookeepers move Phil from storage on Aug. 1, 1980, to a new home at the Children's Zoo. His preserved remains long had been a popular attraction, and his absense in storage led to regular requests by patrons, Where's Phil? (Robert C. Holt Jr./Post-Dispatch)
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In January 1985, Phil was featured in a humorous poster at the Zoo gift shop. When commercial photographer Jack Zehrt took the picture for the poster, Zoo director Charles Hoessle said Phil was still one of the most popular features at the Zoo. (Post-Dispatch)
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Katie Perko, a few days before her second birthday, rides on the back of a statue inspired by Phil at the Zoo on Jan. 6, 1987. She is the daughter of Sharon and Steven Perko of Manchester. The family was enjoying a relatively warm January day at the Zoo. (L. T. Spence/Post-Dispatch)
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