Controversy sparked over zoo’s Halloween decorations

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St. Louis Zoo Halloween display (photo from St. Louis Zoo Facebook page)

The St. Louis Zoo planned to remove a Halloween display after receiving online complaints that it smacked of racism.

KTVI reports the display was life-sized ghost figures with black faces, hung from tall trees near the zoo’s bear pits.  In nighttime darkness, the figures are lit from inside to produce a faceless image.

Wyndel Hill, St. Louis Zoo Vice President for Internal Affairs, said, “The faces are black so that at night the lights inside the faces would be the only thing that you see.”   He said it was never the Zoo’s intent to offend anyone.

“I don’t know that it looks derogatory towards anyone, by the same token however, if someone is offended by it,  it touches our sensibilities and we’ll remove it,” Hill said.

Several comments on the zoo’s Facebook page likened the display to images of slaves who had been  lynched.

KTVI reported visitors to the zoo generally liked the display and did not see it as a lynching scene.  One zoo visitor compared the figures to the “dementors” in the Harry Potter novels.  Another woman said the perception of racism from the display didn’t enter her mind until she was asked if that was what was being shown.

Despite comments also supporting the display, St. Louis Zoo officials reportedly said they would remove the display if it could not be modified to avoid such objections.