Detroit Zoo Key


 You’ve probably got one hiding in the back of your junk drawer. They came in a rainbow of colors and by the mid 1960s the strange looking elephant keys were sold by the hundreds of thousands at fifty cents a pop. His name was Trunkey the Elephant, and he’s got a story to tell.

 The “Talking Storybook” was created by actor and inventor Bruce Sedley for Children’s Fairyland, a theme park in Oakland, California. The park had been using coin-activated record players to play musical nursery rhymes for the exhibits, but the machines had a habit of malfunctioning.  Sedley, who was familiar with tape playback message repeaters, created Talking Storybooks that were activated with a plastic “Magic Key to Fairyland.” The gold plated key gave youngsters a souvenir of the park, while eliminating the need for parents to walk around with a pocketful of nickels.  Fifteen of the new machines were installed throughout the park in the fall of 1958.

 Magic Keys were given away as prizes on Sedley’s KRON-TV kids show, Captain Sedley. In addition, Sedley and his puppet King Fuddle taped a series of TV remotes and made many personal appearances at Children’s Fairyland.

 In 1959 Sedley signed a contract with the San Francisco Zoo to supply the facility with 41 Talking Storybooks. A new key design was in order, so Trunkey the Elephant was created, along with a clever new animated TV commercial (All the animals in the zoo…), which was written and performed by Sedley.

 Sedley and Children’s Fairyland resident clown Count PoPo De Bathe left the San Francisco Bay area in 1960 for a 22-city tour to promote Talking Storybooks. The Detroit Zoo was one of the stops on the road trip, and was the second zoo to sign a contract.

 A total of 56 Talking Storybooks were installed at The Detroit Zoo, with three free units promoting key sales. Detroit TV kids show host Bwana Don Hunt recorded the Storybook commentaries. The free message at the zoo’s entrance was as follows:

 “Welcome to the Detroit Zoo. Your zoo houses many interesting animals, each with its own fascinating background and peculiararities. If they could talk, the animals would tell many true and educational stories about themselves, but they cannot. So your zoo is equipped with with Talking Storybooks. Each storybook is operated by a special key that is shaped like an elephant, and by inserting its trunk into the keyhole and turning it, you may listen to each storybook’s interesting story. The elephant key is available at any souvenir or refreshment stand for only 50 cents, and may be used again on your return. The same key also operates the Talking Storybooks at the Children’s Zoo and Aquarium on Belle Isle.”

 The storybooks were removed from the Detroit Zoo in the early 1980s, and were replaced in 2003 with state of the art digital versions; complete with new magnetically encoded credit card style keys, installed by Bruce Sedley’s company, Audio Trek Inc.