Camels in Central Park Zoo (Image via The Library of Congress)
On November 9th, 1874, the people of NYC were gripped with fear. Pulse-pounding, heart stomping fear. A terror had taken over the streets of our fair city and no matter where you were no one was safe. What was the cause of this pandemonium? Well it was the zoo animals, that’s who. According to an article in The New York Herald, a former major newspaper which ran from 1835 to 1924, the animals at the Central Park Zoo made a break for it and were rampaging across the city.
Just imagine, elephants running across Fifth Avenue, lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) in Little Italy stealing all of the good salami. Policemen fighting off monkeys running in the streets, the whole scene looking like a scene from the latest Planet of The Apes. The Herald wrote that the escaped animals were already responsible for the deaths of 49 New Yorkers, along with 200 injured. How would this matter get solved? The police? The National Guard? The Navy?
Potential Victims? Photo from The Library of Congress.
The answer is neither. Because the entire story was a complete fabrication. The basis of the story was to bring attention to the Central Park Zoo‘s lack of safety. The story, which ended up being called things like The New York Zoo Hoax, The Central Park Zoo Escape, and the very well-worded Central Park Menagerie Scare of 1874, did say that the story was not real. It seems that readers back then (like some readers today) do not really read the fine print on certain articles and then overreact to them.
The Herald moved past this debacle and continued to live on in one form or another until the late 1960’s where it would become absorbed by more prominent newspapers like The New York Times (its European arm has become the International New York Times, previously the International Herald Tribune).
Herald Square, meanwhile, gets its namesake from the former headquarters that used to sit on this plaza. And the Central Park Zoo is still bringing in thousands of residents and tourists with no actual escapes in its history.
To hear him read this article in an old-school newspaper man voice, contact the author @TatteredFedora