Adventures in Childhood Nostalgia | Cleveland Zoo Key

The early 1950s saw the invention and introduction of “talking storybooks” that were dreamed up by Bay area native Bruce Sedley. The San Francisco zoo was the first American zoo to use talking storybooks and at the same time introduced the ingenious elephant shaped key called Trunkey the Elephant. Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, San Francisco, New York (Bronx Zoo) all had their own talking storybooks and elephant keys. I remember bringing the key to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo as a kid – something really special that I look back upon fondly. When I was home for the holidays my dad unearthed one of the keys our family had from the late 70s. It had been in his desk for the last 30 or so years. I’m glad dad never throws anything out. Anyone out there remember these things?

My elephant key from the Cleveland Zoo


zoo key NYC

Blue key image from Cleveland SGS. New York Zoo key via.

Comments on “Adventures in Childhood Nostalgia | Cleveland Zoo Key

    William Koperwhats on January 26, 2010 12:12 AM:

    My wife grew up in San Francisco (4th generation!) in the early sixties and remembers her zoo key fondly. Many years ago she gave her mom a shadow box with the zoo key, a white patent leather purse and a picture of her grandpa and her holding the two items at the entrance to the SF zoo when she was about three or four. Thanks, this brought back some really great memories for her…

    Andrew on January 26, 2010 12:53 AM:

    We had these in Portland Oregon in the sixties also. There were TV commercials and a jingle, but I can’t remember what it was. Something like “All the animals in the zoo are jumping up and down for you…”

    MYSoo on January 26, 2010 1:02 AM:

    I remember buying one of these when I was in elementary school and we went to visit the Philadelphia Zoo. Next time I’m home, I’ll look around for it, I know I’ve seen it in the past 5 years, so it should still be around.

    James S on January 26, 2010 1:26 AM:

    Ohh man! This article brings back memories! I used to have one from the Bronx Zoo – and I clearly remember begging my dad to get me one. Now I just need to find it…

    James S on January 26, 2010 1:33 AM:

    This article brought back so many memories! I used to have one of these from the Bronx Zoo – and remember *begging* my parents to get it for me. Now I just need to find it…

    TA on January 26, 2010 1:34 AM:

    wow! these are beautiful !!!!

    Preppy 101 on January 26, 2010 2:02 AM:

    It’s the little things that really count, isn’t it?

    Mike on January 26, 2010 8:33 AM:

    I still have my keys from Philly.

    Christina on January 26, 2010 9:04 AM:

    This is awesome. I am not old enough to remember these specific keys but I certainly remember the ones from my childhood. These are much cuter!

    Erik on January 26, 2010 9:26 AM:

    Had those back in Portland as well, still do actually…

    DAM on January 26, 2010 9:33 AM:

    Yes sir. I grew up in New Orleans and while I don’t remember these at the zoo, City Parks’ Storyland had these keys. for each play area you could enter your key to hear the story the area was designed around.

    I don’t remember being able to keep the key otherwise I’d have it today given my father doesn’t’ throw anything out either.

    Today, that key would make a pretty awesome key chain.

    Mathew on January 26, 2010 12:17 PM:

    A wonderful find. I visited the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo a few weeks ago and was reminiscing with my brother about school field trips to the zoo, and about how there used to be peacocks that would roam the zoo, screaming and scaring the ice cream out of people. We used to feed circus peanuts to the carp that lived in the pond–something tells me that would be frowned on today (and those carp would now be called “koi” and would be part of a species recovery plan).

    Chris Kiuchi on January 26, 2010 12:28 PM:

    Children’s Fairyland in Oakland, CA ( still has storybook keys ( in action. I keep mine in my desk, ready to pass down to my son.

    Jim on January 26, 2010 12:37 PM:

    I remember and still have mine from the Detroit Zoo. Good memories!

    Makaga on January 26, 2010 1:12 PM:

    @ Chris Kiuchi
    Thanks for posting about FairyLand in Oakland! I was just about to add that one to the list.
    I remember that place almost as a dream; and was very surprised to drive past it as an adult and find out it really did happen!

    @ACL it would be great to have your ‘hotel key chains’ match up with keys that could sonmehow activate something in NYC. …Just dreaming :)

    Diane Faye Zerr on January 26, 2010 1:56 PM:

    I have one from the Philadelphia Zoo that I found at an outdoor flea market for $1! It still has the tag attached and I now have it on a shelf where I stare at it from time to time. Digital exhibits can’t compete with a keepsake like this!

    Brion Judge on January 26, 2010 3:15 PM:

    I had one for the Detroit zoo, we used to go there alot for family outings for some reason. I haven’t thought about those things in years and years.

    Lindsay Carver on January 26, 2010 10:20 PM:

    To add to the posting:

    How great is that!

    James S on January 27, 2010 12:52 AM:

    Apparently there are other specialty blogs on the Internet. This is great:

    Shawn on January 27, 2010 1:17 PM:

    I remember my mother giving my brother and I one (1) key to share, not sure why she thought we would follow-through on the sharing part. We would fight over who was going to hold the key, etc. One visit my brother refused to walk unless he was able to carry/hold the key. My mother was so upset that I remember leaving my brother and walking with-out him. (today she would have been reported to Child Services) I am sure by the end of the visit to the zoo, my mother was cursing the key. I called her this AM to see if she still have it, she is looking this afternoon, but it does bring back great memories! Gotta love the Cleveland Zoo. NEO had some great attractions, Zoo, Sea World, Geauga Lake, great place to grown-up!

    Russell Sprouts on January 27, 2010 2:16 PM:

    These are too expensive.

    Martin on January 27, 2010 3:32 PM:

    Growing up in San Francisco in the 80s, we was crazy for them zoo keys. I had a drawer full of them at home, and yet, I — and all of my classmates — always managed to forget to bring even one on the annual school field trip. But that was okay, because most of the fun of the annual zoo field trip, aside from Monkey Island (RIP), was fashioning crude zoo key replicas from twigs, and “stealing” the information contained within each talk box. These counterfeit keys actually worked and we felt like little MacGyvers. In retrospect, I imagine our teachers must have been amused to see us all leaning over to listen to the small speaker, eager to absorb the informational tidbits we had unlocked with our cunning.

    Omdroparebop on January 27, 2010 3:34 PM:

    How else where we supposed to learn all about the bongos? :)
    We’d stop at the West Side Market and buy out-of-date oranges for next to nothing; and throw ’em to the bears.
    You know they closed Monkey Island, don’t you? :)
    Good times.

    doug on January 27, 2010 9:11 PM:

    Wow! that was something I haven’t seen in many,many years. I Had one,and I must have gotten it at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago (I’m not even sure of the name of the zoo anymore).

    TJ on January 28, 2010 12:09 PM:

    I grew up out side of Philadelphia and remember our key being yellow. Although I harbor pack rat-like tendencies, my parents subscribe to the clean slate theory of living which means the only thing left of the key is a blurry, grainy burst of yellow in my brother’s hand as he taunts me with it in a home movie from 1969. I want that key back!

    Jerome Price on January 28, 2010 4:51 PM:

    I remember these keys. Back in the early 60’s my grandparents used to take us kids to Deer Forest in Coloma Michigan. The key we got back then was yellow and unlocked a box that described the particular animal(s) in the caged area you were looking at I’m pretty sure I’ve got one stashed away in my stuff but I’m pretty sure it’s blue. I think the company that made these speaker boxes custom made these keys for the particular zoo or animal park that installed the speaker boxes.

    FREED on January 29, 2010 10:11 AM:

    Turtle back zoo in West Orange NJ had them when I was a child, but now have them again in new versions…I still have mine

    Don on January 30, 2010 5:11 PM:

    I lived in the Cleveland area and made several trips to the Cleveland Zoo in the mid 60’s. I still have my key and remember fondly walking from area to area and rushing up to use my key and hear details of that animal. Thanks for triggering such a great memory.

    flooperdave on January 31, 2010 4:08 PM:

    I have just found a green key in a box of things purchased from an auction I will be placing it on e bay – must be a Cleveland zoo key ? along with a small woven wool hat from the BLUE HOLE Castalia ohio

    qwiklight on February 3, 2010 10:02 PM:

    Do I remember zoo keys? Check out the
    link above?

    Flooperdave on February 4, 2010 8:53 PM:

    check out e bay “flooperdave or “zoo key” I have placed it on there – a great memory and conversation piece Along with the little gem from the BLUE HOLE in Sandusky any one remember that ?

    sk on February 6, 2010 6:57 PM:

    Wow these are amazing! I was born in the late 80’s so I have no known recollection of these but they’re great!

    cg on February 8, 2010 11:43 AM:

    i wish i still had mine from the turtleback zoo in west orange, nj.
    thanks for the memory!

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