1989 Colonial Parkway, Fort Worth TX 76110
Long considered one of the top zoos in the South, the Fort Worth Zoo is known for its large collection of exotic animals. But after more than 100 years in business, the zoo has also collected a poltergeist or two.
Can animals see spirits?
Two ghosts are frequently reported at the Fort Worth Zoo.
According to CBS DFW, the first ghost is a young man who worked at the zoo and died in a tragic accident.
The second ghost is a woman in 19th-century apparel who has remained a mystery throughout the years. Ghost City Tours combed through old newspapers to investigate who she might be and uncovered a heartbreaking story.
Visitors and employees alike have reported seeing a woman in a turn-of-the-century white dress, holding a parasol, and slowly pacing back and forth in front of the zoo cafe.
The woman's identity and why she decided to haunt the zoo has remained a mystery for years.
While researching the zoo’s history, we discovered a woman who had a special gift with animals. She fought against leaving the zoo in life and has chosen to stay there in death.
Dating back to 1653 as a symbol of high status, women commonly used parasols until relatively recently. At the turn of the century, they became less of a novelty item and more an item of convenience.
Considered an excellent tool to shield the sun and maintain a porcelain complexion, they fell out of style due to the growing trend of tanned skin. By 1930, it was rare for a woman to carry a parasol.
The Fort Worth Zoo first opened in 1909, so it’s fair to assume that our mysterious, parasol-holding female had an early connection to this location.
According to the Fort Worth Zoo’s website, the zoo started with just a lion, bear cubs, an alligator, a coyote, and rabbits. However, old newspaper articles from the time portray the beginning of the zoo as something even more meager.
The lion and alligator didn’t arrive until the zoo was open for several years.
Originally called The Forest Park Zoo, the first newspaper articles about the zoo appeared in 1912 describing pets and stray animals gifted or dumped at the attraction.
A 1912 Fort Worth Star-Telegram article described a man who gave his pet bobcat to the zoo. He said it was
“tame as a kitten, but decided to give it away because his little girl loved carrying it around in her arms and he worried it might hurt her.
In another instance, a raccoon was delivered to the early zoo, followed by wolves, and a ring-tailed cat. Interestingly, the cat was captured after it broke into a local grocery store and ate up all the dried peaches.
In most of these articles, a woman took the spotlight. Her name was Alice Imhoff, the park gardener’s wife.
Alice Imhoff became a star in the Fort Worth Record and Register in 1912 for her uncanny skills with animals.
“Fort Worth has a woman animal tamer who would shun the glamour of the circus parade and the gaudy apparel of the daredevils. She has never drawn a penny for gaining mastery over beasts, but does it for the sheer animals themselves.”
The newspapers claimed every animal at the zoo loved Alice and she felt perfectly safe in every cage. Her fearlessness extended even to the two rowdy wolves that she reportedly single-handedly tamed.
Alice’s husband, Fred, was in charge of the zoo for the Fort Worth City Park Department, but he told reporters he relinquished management of the zoo to his wife.
In the early days, vandals broke into the zoo and slaughtered 42 rabbits overnight, leaving their dismembered bodies strewn throughout the Forest Park Zoo property.
The next morning, Alice was feeding the surviving baby rabbits with a straw invention she created to simulate a mother rabbit. The tale was reported in a 1913 Fort Worth Telegram article.
“With tears in her eyes and anger in her heart against the murderers, Alice Imhoff, the wife of the park custodian, tried to feed the little fellows.”
Eventually politics took over during the early days of the zoo. At one point, the park board voted to shut it down due to operating costs. Public displeasure ended up saving the attraction and it’s still open more than a hundred years later.
The Imhoffs were not part of the board’s plan for the future of the zoo. A Fort Worth-Star Telegram article from 1913 reported that the board replaced Fred as custodian. Alice did not leave the zoo willingly.
She didn’t want to leave until she was sure that they’d found a good person to take care of the animals.
That was the last mention of Alice Imhoff in any newspaper. It’s not clear how she passed away but there’s no denying that she had a profound bond with the animals. Because of that bond, some believe she’s the Woman in White haunting the premises today.
Seventy-five years after the city evicted Alice from the zoo, it became a special place for another trainer: Michael Bell. Unfortunately, he died in a tragic accident.
Michael Bell loved elephants. At 35 years old, he had worked with the zoo for most of his adult life. In his 14 years of employment there, he had risen to the level of chief elephant handler. Employees at the zoo recognized him for his sense of humor and dedication.
Bell was considered instrumental in establishing a new multi-million dollar elephant exhibit in the zoo at the time of his death.
During his shift in 1987, Bell was working with a 7,000-pound elephant named Sam. Although no one witnessed what happened, investigators believe Sam knocked Bell down with his trunk and stepped on his head.
The Zoo chose to keep Sam on display, despite claims from other employees that Sam had shown aggressive behavior in the past.
Many believe that Bell’s spirit remains at the zoo today, caring for the elephants he loved so dearly.
The Fort Worth Zoo has grown to host 7,000 native and exotic animals and is in the second phase of a 100-million dollar master plan. The non-profit Fort Worth Zoological Association currently operates the zoo.
With more than a million guests visiting the attraction every year, the ghosts of Fort Worth Zoo will likely stick around to continue to look after their friends.
The Fort Worth Zoo is open for guests and special events. If you visit and notice an employee or two wearing clothes that don’t fit the time, don’t hesitate to capture a photo and share it with us!
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