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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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.