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Buyers stampede to quirky sale at Tampa zoo

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Published:   |   Updated: June 29, 2013 at 04:15 PM

TAMPA - The pile of items at Lisa Kennedy's feet looked like the stuff of nightmares.

Kennedy had dug up a few skeletons, dismembered limbs and a ghoulish, life-sized puppet ideal for scaring children.

"We got some good pieces in there," Kennedy, 44, of Apollo Beach, said with a laugh, "a few body parts."

The props, costumes and material Kennedy found Saturday were among hundreds of items sold to the public by Lowry Park Zoo.

The zoo's White Elephant Sale featured oddities and other quirky items once used as backdrops or decorations at Christmas and Halloween events such as Wild Wonderland and ZooBoo.

The best part? Almost everything was discounted by hundreds of dollars.

Old ski ball machines sold for $100; an animatronic wicked witch had a price tag of $450; and individual pieces of plastic bones were on sale for $2 each.

Kennedy said her haul Saturday would have cost at least $1,000 if she bought the items new. She and her husband, Cliff, ended up paying less than $100.

The Kennedys said they had a specific reason for going to the zoo, 1101 W. Sligh Ave., and perusing the sale.

"We're going to have a professional haunted house," Cliff Kennedy said. "Actually, a haunted funeral home. We've had some experience."

The Kennedys said they were scare actors at Busch Gardens for five years. Cliff Kennedy's favorite costume was a red zombie. His wife said she enjoyed being a ghostly widow with a glowing, spectral face.

Kennedy said he missed out on some bigger items, but was happy with what they bought.

"I'm sure other people did better than us, but we got what we needed," Kennedy, 48, said.

The zoo hosts the White Elephant Sale when its warehouse fills up and the decorations become worn, said Dave Zimmerman, the zoo's executive vice president.

The next sale won't be for another three years, he said.

"Things will wear out and get below our standards," Zimmerman said. He pointed to a row of yellow Christmas trees. "See those trees there? They were nice, white trees at some point."

The liquidation sale began at 8 a.m. for annual pass holders and 9 a.m. for the general public. Anticipation for the sale was so high that people started lining up at 6:30 a.m. Four hours later, most of the unique, big-ticket items were gone.

"A life-size vampire and a life-size werewolf went quickly at $500 apiece," Zimmerman said.

The last sale in 2010 made $10,000. Zimmerman said money made from this year's sale, which goes back to the zoo, probably is comparable to earnings from the previous one.

Volunteers said when the gates opened to everybody at 9 a.m., it looked like the rush at Black Friday sales. Two people argued about sea horse statues but the dispute was resolved when one of the buyers sold a sea horse to another buyer.

Landscaping items and old fixtures from zoo buildings also were liquidated. By 10:30 a.m., the large white tent where the sale was held was nearly empty. A few Christmas ornaments remained on a table and a row of old arcade games were on one side of the fence.

Outside, a large Frankenstein statue, a giant piece of candy corn and what looked like Santa's sleigh all had tickets on them that read "sold."

Colt Smith of Lakeland said he went to the sale looking for props he can use for his father's corn row maze. He found 20 wood cutouts of animals, each about eight feet long, for $5 apiece.

"We got a manatee, a buffalo, a gorilla and a big parrot," Smith, 28, said. "We're not sure what we'll do with it all yet. But a sale like this is the only place where you can get all this stuff."

rreyes@tampatrib.com

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