The Oglebay Good Zoo held its first Boo at the Zoo in October 1980 as a way to raise funds for animal care and zoo operations and to invite the community to enjoy safe, family-oriented Halloween fun. It quickly became an Ohio Valley tradition and grew into several nights of entertainment. Over the years, however, attention was shifted to other zoo endeavors, and Boo at the Zoo relied on the event’s public perception to continue its success. As a result, the Boo at the Zoo stations, decorations and activities didn’t change much over the years. That is, until 2015 when two fans got to work on reviving one of the valley’s biggest community parties.
Raina Burke and Jeremy West grew up going to Boo at the Zoo every year, but like most kids, eventually, they grew out of the tradition. Building on decades of good times, Burke and West began volunteering at the event and added new sets, like the candy corn house, and brought in community sponsors, like Weelunk, to offer goodies and other items for sale. Their efforts resulted in record attendance at Boo at the Zoo as word spread that it was better than ever.
Community Costume Party
Burke and West’s improvements have continued, and attendance has grown. Given that Boo at the Zoo is the biggest fundraiser our zoo holds each year, the more guests the merrier. Our zoo requires a minimum of $650,000 a year to care for animals ranging from lorikeets to red pandas to goats to cheetahs. It is one of only a handful of fully self-sustaining zoos in the United States. Every ticket sold for Boo at the Zoo makes a difference, which is why several community businesses and organizations sponsor the three-weekends-long event, including West Liberty University, Bordas and Bordas Attorneys, Pepsi, the Monteverdi Group, Glessner and Associates, Team Sledd and WesBanco.
In addition to being a self-sustaining zoo, Oglebay’s Good Zoo is the largest teaching zoo in the country, which is made possible in part because of our zoo’s partnership with West Liberty University’s Zoo Management program. Boo at the Zoo provides Zoo Science majors with the opportunity to gain experiences essential for all future zoo employees, including hands-on work with the public and organizing fundraisers.
Our Zoo Really Is a Good Zoo
Wheeling is the fourth smallest community in the country to house an accredited zoo. In fact, the Oglebay Good Zoo is the only zoo in West Virginia accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). In addition, according to zoo director, Dr. Joe Greathouse, our zoo does “conservation in our own backyards.” The Good Zoo provides conservation education programming to over 13,000 students annually. In addition, it participates in AZA breeding programs for nearly two dozen rare or endangered species, including the Eastern Hellbender Salamander.
Also, our zoo is one of four wildlife rehabilitation centers in the state of West Virginia. It rehabilitates nearly 50 ill or injured wild eagles, hawks and owls in the Ohio River Valley annually. Dr. Greathouse confirmed the zoo’s commitment to these rehabilitation efforts by talking about a recent morning when a hawk was brought to the zoo. Struck by a car, the bird needed surgery and physical therapy before it could go back in the wild. Both were done on site at the Good Zoo.
What’s New at Boo at the Zoo
If you have been to Boo at the Zoo in the past, you know it is a fun night out. Kids and adults alike dress up in their Halloween costumes and visit stations around the perimeter of the zoo. A treat is given at each station, and since the candy is safe, it is not unusual to see little monsters gobbling up their treats as they roam the zoo and ride the train.
The train ride is a favorite on a sunny day, and it is even better at night. The historic Huntington train whisks its costumed passengers around the zoo grounds, where frightful decorations add to the spooky atmosphere. Much to the delight of riders who scream in a bit of fright but mostly glee, the train slips through its pitch-black tunnel, not once but twice, before coming to a stop at the depot.
In addition to the usual haunts, this year’s Boo at the Zoo features dead pirate decor, complete with a ghostly pirate ship manned by a full skeleton crew. Visitors can enjoy a timed light show on our zoo’s patio to a haunting soundtrack. Benedum Theater will offer eight-minute, kid-friendly laser shows to the rhythm of Halloween classics, like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Visitors also will have their choice of new treats, including goodies from Cadaver Tavern (where the haunted house used to be). In addition to traditional fall foodstuffs, beer will be available to purchase by adults over 21.
A haunted hayride will transport little goblins and witches through ghostly displays, and the fire department will have their trucks on site for big truck fans. Also, local mascots will roam the zoo grounds and greet visitors, including Topper the bear from West Liberty University, Spike from the Wheeling Nailers, and the Bordas and Bordas Legal Beagle.
Get Your Tickets
No one in the Ohio Valley should miss the biggest community costume party of the year! Oglebay Good Zoo welcomes guests at reduced ticket prices for Freaky First Friday on Oct. 12 from 6-8:30 p.m. The fun continues Oct. 13-14, Oct. 19-21, and Oct. 26-28. Friday night hours are 6-8:30 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 4-8:30 p.m.
Get your tickets early and head right to the express line when you arrive at our zoo. Ticket orders may be placed online or by phone at 304-243-4100.
- Freaky First Friday pricing, Oct. 12: Admission $7.67; Train $2.01 (plus applicable taxes and fees)
- Boo at the Zoo admission pricing, Oct. 13-14, 19-21, 26-28: Good Zoo members — $8.70; non-members — $10.25 (plus applicable taxes and fees)
- Boo at the Zoo Train Ride pricing, Oct. 13-14, 19-21, 26-28: Good Zoo members — $2.01; non-members —$3.04 (plus applicable taxes and fees)
Each paying guest will receive one treat bag to collect goodies at each station around the zoo. Children under 2 without a treat bag get in free, which includes a ride on the train with an accompanying adult.
Long-time Boo at the Zoo-goer Laura Shimenga reflects, “My moments at Boo at the Zoo dot my life and are some of my most treasured memories.” Come to our zoo this October and make your own memories at Wheeling’s biggest spooktacular event of the year.
• Christina Fisanick, Ph.D., is an associate professor of English at California University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches expository writing, creative non-fiction and digital storytelling. She is the author of more than 30 books, including her most recent memoir, “The Optimistic Food Addict: Recovering from Binge Eating Disorder.” She has been a Weelunk contributing writer since 2015. Christina is a 1996 graduate of West Liberty University and a member of Ohio Valley Writers. She lives in Wheeling with her family.