As one of the most bizarre court cases to occur in Warren County and most memorable in Judge Neal Bronson’s career, Sam the Chimp has left his mark on the region. Many people know Sam as the 4-foot, 140-pound, beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking “monkey” that lived at the Train Stop Inn (now known as The Monkey Bar & Grille), but many people do not know much else about the controversial chimp.
In the late 1970s, Sam and his brother, Rudy, were abandoned in Boone County, Kentucky by a bankrupt carnival. The two young chimps were picked up and used as tailgate entertainment in the Cincinnati area. The two chimps were exhibited on the back of a truck where patrons could pay money to feed the chimps candy and soda. It is rumored that Sam’s favorite drink was actually grape soda, so it’s a good possibility that he developed this affinity for grape soda during this time of his life.
A few years into Sam and Rudy’s truck bed shows, Sam was sold to the owner of a canoe rental business in Loveland, Ohio. The owner often could be seen taking Sam out for walks on a leash. The amicable relationship ended when Sam bit the man’s hand, so he was sold to Ken Harris, the owner of the Train Stop Inn, located in Foster, Ohio.
Ken Harris did not have a permanent cage for Sam, but in front of the tavern there was an abandoned foundation that was turned into living quarters for Sam.
During Sam’s time at the Train Stop Inn, many fond memories were created.
Most of the stories revolve around memories of Sam smoking and drinking beer or grape soda, although he loved Snickers and Coffee, as well. Ken Harris’s wife, Margie, complained about having to clean up the mess from the beer and cigarettes. She said she would have to confiscate about six or seven lighters each week because people gave Sam their lighter to light a cigarette and Sam does not give it back.
Margie loved to share how the Girl Scouts would come and sing to Sam. Sam loved it when they sang to him.
One resident of the Maineville area told this story: “I taught school not far from there [Train Stop Inn] and would pass his cage everyday on my way to work. One student told me about how Sam got out and made his way up the hill to her house. He helped himself to a drink from the garden hose and sat down on their porch. Her mother called the police, who notified the owner. The owner [Ken Harris] arrived a couple of minutes later and opened the door of his pickup and called for Sam. Sam went over, got in the truck, and returned to his home.”
Around the time that Little Miami Scenic Trail was finished and gaining popularity, the US Humane Society caught wind of a chimpanzee along the bike trail. Although there were many happy stories involving Sam, some did not feel his living conditions were appropriate for a chimp.
On April 15, 1987, Sam was confiscated and taken to temporary quarters at Ohio State University. Ken Harris was charged with cruelty to animals and a trial date was set.
Harris’s lawyer entered a plea of not guilty and asked for a jury trial.
In the meantime, Sam’s cage was renovated and furnished with a television, radio, and refrigerator. The new habitat was approved by the United States Department of Agriculture. Harris and his lawyer arranged a “wedding” between Sam and a female chimpanzee, named Susie, when Sam was returned to the Train Stop Inn.
The condition of the enclosure was not the only concern of the Humane Society. They were also concerned with Sam’s diet, consisting of beer, potato chips, and cigarettes.
The media quickly picked up on this concern and wrote articles with sarcastic titles, such as:
“Owner Fears Good Habits for His Chimp”
“Was Life Too Wild for Sam?”
“Monkeyshines Rile Animal Lovers”
“Sam the Chimp to Leave Vices Behind in Six-Week Quarantine”
Ken Harris’s lawyer bought an inflatable rubber ape that he attached to the back of his motorcycle, on which he frequently road around town.
A Save the Chimp fund was started, with jars distributed to pubs around the city.
The trial even captured the attention of Jane Goodall, world-renowned primate expert and researcher. She wrote an excerpt in her book, she co-authored with Dale Peterson. The book is titled, “Visions of Caliban on Chimpanzees and People.” Patrons of the former Train Stop Inn say they heard Jane Goodall say that Sam was the happiest chimp she had ever seen, although she did not include this in her book. Next time you stop into the Monkey Bar & Grille, ask your server or bartender if you can have a look at the book :)
In the end, the jury decided to acquit Ken Harris of cruelty to animals and Sam was returned to his living quarters.
Shortly thereafter, the Humane Society filed a lawsuit against Harris, seeking custody of Sam. The Humane Society and Harris reached a settlement in 1988. The terms were never disclosed, and Sam’s exact location was never uncovered. Many believe he was transferred to an animal reserve in Florida, but this is all just hearsay.
Around the same time that Sam was sold, Rudy was sold to a young welder. The man welded Sam’s brother a cage, but after a few weeks, he decided he was unfit to care for Rudy. He considered having the chimp euthanized, but Jeremie and Jo Folger came to the rescue. The Folgers tried to contact every major zoo across the United States, but no one wanted an adolescent male chimp.
The Folgers decided to keep Rudy at their home, but Rudy was a trouble maker, as you would expect from an adolescent male chimp. The Folgers built a large cage in a room of their house, but Rudy could reach out the top of the cage and tore down the ceiling of the room. He was also able to shift his weight to move the cage around the room, so many tables, lamps, and televisions were broken, especially during football games. In 1987, the Folgers decided to send Rudy to Primarily Primates, a rescue organization.