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Lion, Bobcat or Dog? Oh My!
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2020-04-29

From Finland to Pottstown, there lurked an unknown

 

            Separating fact from fiction is nothing new.  Telling tall tales can end up spreading a little humor when the truth is found out.  But, when the end of those whoppers fails to materialize, folks can be left to live with a fear brought on by tall

In the fall of 1924 rumors abounded

about a lion roaming the area caused

quite a stir from Finland to Pottstown.

One rumor reported that it escaped

from a show that passed through the

area.

tales.

            Back in the mid-1920s, local news was consumed with the report of a lion roaming the region.  Not a mountain lion, but a lion believed to have escaped from a train carrying a sideshow heading to Trenton, New Jersey.

            It was a time of prohibition and no cell-phone photos, so all the people had to go on was reported first-hand accounts.

            It was in the early morning hours of October 3, 1924 when a Schultz Bakery driver named Fisher saw a large animal coming down the middle of the road in Perkiomenville.  The Pottstown deliveryman said "the animal leaped to the side of the road after showing its teeth." 

            A few days later the animal was spotted by Albert Bernhart and a couple of days later Thomas Brothers, of the Cedar Colony near Sumneytown, claimed to have seen it.

            All who claimed to have spotted the animal said it was lion.

Lehigh County game protector James

Geary believed the animal seen in the

area was a large bobcat that he was on

the trail of for months.

            Within the first week of the original sighting, reports starting coming in from other areas.  One rumor was that the lion had killed a steer belonging to Perkiomen Sales owner William Espenship and another reported that the animal killed a man in Finland.  Still another reported that the Finland School was closed because parents kept their kids at home out of fear of the roaming feline.

            Other rumors reported that the lion was killed in Geryville, Hoppenville, Sumneytown, Morwood, Finland and Powder Valley.

            Many of the rumors were unfounded.  No steer or man was killed and the school in Finland was open (although many well-armed fathers escorted their children to the classroom).  There was no truth to any of the stories that the animal was killed.

            Where did the lion come from?  One rumor reported that it escaped from a show that passed through the area.  This too proved false when investigators checked

Town and Country Editor Foster

Hillegass and local businessmen

Herbert Kneule, along with many

other residents, were convinced

that the rumors of a lion prowling

 the region was nothing more 

than a large dog.

with the fair and found all animals present and accounted for.  In fact, the report of a man wearing a circus uniform canvasing the region looking for the animal was really a Medicine Man looking to open his open his show in the area.

            Some reported the creature to be a Mountain Lion.  Although the large cats once freely roamed the forests of Pennsylvania, it was believed that their population dwindled to almost none by 1900. 

The sighting reports kept coming.

            Grover Meyer reported seeing the animal while traveling to the Finland Creamery.  He "Positively identified it as a lion."  He reported the sighting to some nearby road workers, who "wasted no time dropping their tools" and returning home, according to a news article.

            It was only a matter of time until search and hunting parties cropped up.  On October 10th, 25 well-armed men scoured the Finland area hoping for a shot at the lion.  A day later 24 sportsmen from Lansdale joined in the hunt.  Local Game Warden Jeremiah Reinhart spent a day in the Finland area running down clues.  His efforts proved fruitless.

            The animal was reportedly seen on the Reiman farm, near Hoppenville, on October 16th, by Howard Wardell.  John Country, of Allentown, said he was pursued by the animal while riding horseback near Powder Valley in Lehigh County.

            Another report had the animal sighted near Pottstown on October 13th.  This sighting was accompanied by reported lion tracks along the banks of the Manatawny Creek.

            Lehigh County game protector James Geary checked in with his two-cents as well.  He ridiculed the supposed witnesses and claimed that the animal was nothing more than a "monster wildcat" and that "he was on the trail of the feline for months."

            The mystery was reported solved when Town and Country Editor Foster Hillegass and local businessmen Herbert Kneule saw a large dog fitting the description of the lion, walking along the side of the road in Bally.  This sighting took place at 1:15 a.m. while the gentlemen were traveling home from Reading after attending a ceremony at the Rajah Shrine.

            Afterward, Hillegass had become quite skeptical about the sightings and reports.  He wrote that he had "Thinned down his fingertips pounding out type-written pages of reports of the lion."  Hillegass started having a little more fun with it when he suggested that the lion story would be added to other myths of the region.

            The sightings continued.  Charles Kline, living on Monacacy Hill in Berks County, reported hearing the lion roar near his home.  He reported, "Three automobiles full of armed sportsmen went to investigate."  The lion reportedly blocked their way.  Robert Docker jumped from the car and shot the lion between the eyes.  The animal ran off followed by the hunters, who trailed it for a distance but were unable to find it.

            A week later, Red Hill Fire Company held a parade to celebrate its new $18,000 firehouse on Main Street in the borough.  In the line of the parade was Paul Albrecht, owner of the Red Hill Hotel, dressed in hunting garb, carrying a rifle and walking behind a float carrying a likeness of a lion.

            It was reported to be a highlight of the parade.

            The sightings and stories dropped off after that.


 

 

 

 

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