The Bristol Zoo Parking Attendant

A Tale Too Good to Be True

Parking Lot
Mitch Diamond / Getty Images

A viral tale circulating since 2007 tells about a "very pleasant attendant" who showed up every day at Bristol Zoo in England for 25 years running to collect parking fees from visitors — then one day simply vanished with all the cash. What really happened to "The Bristol Zoo Parking Attendant"?

Example: Bristol Zoo Parking Attendant Email (2009)

Fw: A well-planned retirement

From The London Times:

Outside the Bristol Zoo, in England, there is a parking lot for 150 cars and 8 coaches, or buses.

It was manned by a very pleasant attendant with a ticket machine charging cars 1 pound (about $1.40) and coaches 5 (about $7).

This parking attendant worked there solid for all of 25 years. Then, one day, he just didn't turn up for work.

"Oh well", said Bristol Zoo Management - "we'd better phone up the City Council and get them to send a new parking attendant..."

"Err ... no", said the Council, "that parking lot is your responsibility."

"Err ... no", said Bristol Zoo Management, "the attendant was employed by the City Council, wasn't he?"

"Err ... NO!" insisted the Council.

Sitting in his villa somewhere on the coast of Spain, is a bloke who had been taking the parking lot fees, estimated at 400 pounds (about $560) per day at Bristol Zoo for the last 25 years. Assuming 7 days a week, this amounts to just over 3.6 million pounds ($7 million).

And no one even knows his name.

Analysis

If ever there was a story too good to be true, this is one. Not only has a crack team of journalists from the Bristol Evening Post conducted a thorough investigation and found the tale of the phantom car park attendant to be "nothing more than an urban myth," they have also succeeded in pinning down its exact point of origin: the Bristol Evening Post themselves.

"A version of the story did appear in the Evening Post two years ago," explained an article in the June 13, 2009, edition, "in a feature on urban myths published to coincide with April Fools' Day."

In other words, at the time of the self-expose, it was a five-year-old April Fools' prank gone viral. There's nothing more to it than that. For the record, the Bristol Evening Post article further stated that Bristol Zoo actually owns more than one car park — several, in fact, none of which are open to coaches (buses) — with a comparable number of duly-hired attendants on the job.

The Dangers of Publishing April Fools Articles

This is an example of why many publishers ban April Fools articles. They can easily take on a life of their own, separate from their original publication date when the joke may be more apparent. Also, April Fools is not a universal tradition. With the global scope of the internet, what might be seen as a humorous "gotcha" prank story in one country will be seen as actual news in others.

Sources and further reading:

Urban Myth of the Bristol Zoo Parking Attendant  Bristol Evening Post, 13 June 2009