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  • Escaped Lions March 22, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval, Modern , trackback

    ***Dedicated to Andy the Mad Monk***

    Lions are striking animals and it is only natural that, through the ages, zoos and circuses have kept them to impress their clientele. They are also hardy creatures that makes them easier to keep alive than, say, the giraffe or a rhino. But they are dangerous and if they should escape…

    Beachcombing has tracked down several, the-lion-that-got-away stories. A recent one, for example, was sent in by Andy the Mad Monk. In 1816 a lion escaped from Ballard’s travelling menagerie in Britain and attacked the night mail service from London to Exeter, Quicksilver, jumping at the horses. Imagine the fear and surprise of the bleary-eyed riders as a lion sprang from out of the nearby oaks.

    The beast had been stalking the mail coach for a short while before the attack – and the driver had initially mistaken it for a calf. When the carriage pulled into its scheduled stop at the Winterslow Hut, the lioness pounced and attacked one of the four horses named Pomegranate. The passengers stormed into the inn and locked themselves inside, shutting out the mail coach guard, Joseph Pike. Pike reached for his blunderbuss gun but was persuaded not to shoot the expensive lion by the menagerie owner who came rushing up to the scene.

    About six centuries before this, in early Renaissance Florence (thirteenth century), a lion got away from its keeper and ran through the streets of the city. The lion was one of the city’s symbols so Florentine were used to seeing stone versions of the beast at every turn. But to have been confronted with the real thing trotting through Piazza della Signoria must have been terrifying!

    At the time of the people in Florence, a very handsome and strong lion was presented to the commune and was placed in a cage in the Piazza San Giovanni. Because of the keeper’s negligence, the lion escaped and ran through the streets terrifying the city. When it arrived at Orto San Michele [today Orsanmichele], it caught hold of a boy and held him between its paws. The mother, who had no other children and had been pregnant with this one when the father died, ran shrieking and disheveled up to the lion and snatched the boy from its paws. The lion hurt neither mother nor child, but simply sat quietly and watched the whole affair. It was unclear whether this occurred because of the lion’s noble nature or because fortune had preserved the boy’s life so that he could pursue a vendetta regarding his dead father. He eventually did so, and was called Orlanduccio of the lion of Calfette.

    Then from the sublime to the simply ridiculous. This is a warning to all intrepid news-anauts who stumble on nineteenth or twentieth century accounts of escaped lions. The story relates to Felixstowe in Suffolk.

    There used to be the boating lake down the bottom half of the park with the monkey island in the middle, with real monkeys on it.  Oh yes, real monkeys.  And the bottom end which then became the dodgem track that was a zoo.  And I always liked the tale, whether it’s true or not I don’t know, but before the war if it was quiet they used to have an old lion, harmless old thing, a bit like Clarence the lion,  well he was like a friendly old lion.  And they used to sometimes get him out of his cage and walk him up the front.  Then phone the papers and say, ‘‘The lion’s escaped!’  Get a bit of publicity from that,’ Dangerous Lion Escaped from Zoo is Recaptured by Brave Keepers’.  It wasn’t quite like that but you got a bit of publicity.

    A reminder of the most famous escaped zoo hoax of all from nineteenth-century New York.

    Beachcombing would love to have any other escaped lion stories and he has been disappointed by how few he has been able to gather together: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    He’ll end just for his own satisfaction with a beautiful lion story from Trieste though none of the bearded ones escaped. That old reprobate James Joyce in his long exile in that city used to go and sit on the bench next to the zoo and listen to the mangy Trieste lions roaring as twilight closed in.

    As a young man he had dreamt of his hand on Nora’s bra-strap in Dublin. In senility he listened to felines at dusk in the foothills of the Balkans. So ends all human vanity…

    On just the subject a terrible period in the Beachcombing household. Sick relatives, daughter with terrible teeth problems, aupair leaving to tend for ill mother. Please be patient with replies then.


    27 Mar 2012: Leslie writes in: This instance of an escaped lion only happen a year ago, so it’s not as historical as the other fun instances. But it is still fun (if you can call escaped lion stories fun). It happened in Zanesville Ohio, not far from where I live. This guy owned a private zoo, and someone made a very unfortunate mistake . . . well, long story short there were so many animals that escaped that wildlife expert Jack Hanna said it was like “Noah’s Ark wrecked in Zanesville.” They had to shoot to kill, since Jack Hanna informed them tranquilized lions would only get angry and they are very good hunters in the dark. I found the story from the BBC to make it seem more international. Tacitus from Detritus writes on the same topic:  Zaneville is more or less the Battle of Somme regards escaped wild things.  Happened last year and if I recall rightly the low life owner of this mangey menagerie committed suicide after opening the cages.  Final toll more one sided than day one Somme:  18 tigers, 17 lions, 8 bears, three cougars, two wolves and a baboon who might reasonably be considered the brains of the outfit.  The Zanesville SWAT team got a lot of good stories to tell.’ Invisible has four New York Times archive stories: (1), (2), (3) and (4).  Colleen, meanwhile, is thinking of the tragic figure of Harold Davidson. As she points out it is not an escaped lion story as such but a lion features prominently. Davidson had been sacked as a vicar for supposed dalliances with prostitutes. In his attempts to clear his name he went to eccentric ends. ‘For the summer season in 1937 Davidson worked at Thompsons’ Amusement Park in Skegness, where he was billed as “A modern Daniel in a lion’s den”. He would enter a cage with a lion called Freddie and a lioness called Toto, and talk for about ten minutes about the injustice he felt had been meted out to him. On 28 July, he was moving through his act when he accidentally tripped on the tail of the lioness. Presumably perceiving this as an attack, Freddie the lion attacked and mauled him. Renee Somer, the 16-year-old lion attendant, entered the cage and fought the lion back using a 3 ft whip and an iron bar. Davidson was taken to Skegness Cottage Hospital with a neck injury and broken collar-bone and lacerations on his upper body. The lion had mauled him at the neck leaving a gash behind his left ear.’ Thanks Invisible, Colleen, Tacitus and Leslie!!

    26/4/2012: Barry H writes in. As always with genealogical story Beach has carefully stored Barry’s email away and will be very happy to pass on any correspondence: This is an old family story, and it revolves around my great-grandfather who lived in the US, he was a wagonmaster at some point in his life; I know little else about him, his name was Mark Lilibridge Homan (b 1860 – d 1937). I’ll tell the story briefly, but remember that this could be a tall-tale that gets passed down through generations, and the facts get distorted along the way – I’ve tried researching the history, using the net, hoped to find some old, scratchy newspaper-accounts; but so far, I’ve had no luck in verifying any part of this tale. So goes the story, told to me by my father: Mark Homan was attending a travelling circus, this would probably have been somewhere in the American southwest, possibly California. At the time, he was presumably still a young man and in his prime, with his wits about him and courage to match. Mark was sitting up in the bleachers, under the circus tent, enjoying the show with many other patrons. When the lion act came on, a disaster happened: a lion escaped right in the middle of the act, was on free-foot and scowling at the fear-stricken crowd, calculating its next move. The crowd panicked, everyone jumped up and scurried up the bleachers, jumping off the backside, trying to escape from the tent. My great-grandfather, however, kept his head. He stood up and moved down the bleachers, jostling his way through the panicked mob, heading towards the lion. The lion hadn’t attacked anyone yet, it was probably a little confused by the sudden change in events. Great-granddad bustled his way towards the lion, the whole time fumbling with the buttons of his overcoat, until he finally managed to reach inside his coat and pull out his piece – have gun will travel, as the tradition was in those days. Mark Homan stepped up until he was quite close to the lion, as close as comfort would allow; with a steady hand, he levelled his gun, took aim, and fired. Dead on, he hit the lion right between the eyes, first shot – I know, it sounds like a line from a Rudyard Kipling book, but that’s how the story goes: disaster averted, beast slain, peace restored and my great-grandfather a hero, presumably. Mark Lilibridge Homan was laid to rest in a small cemetery in Phoenix, Arizona, in an unmarked grave. If I ever find concrete verification and proof of his involvement in this event, and should I be able to spare the funds, I may erect a tombstone at his gravesite – with a pictograph of his fearless deed displayed upon it. Tombstone, how apt, because if the story is true, then it was done in the real Wyatt Earp fashion! Thus endeth the tale. If you happen to come upon anything that might be related to this story, I’d love to hear from you. We’ll let you know Barry!

    14 Aug 2014: ‘This is not strictly speaking an escaped lion’ writes Janet ‘a Scottish cyclist got chased by a lion out in Malawi  bush while on bike. But the picture seemed to belong here….’ Thanks Janet

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