It’s 1874. Central Park is about 15 years old, the playground of New York’s leisure class. One of the park’s most popular attractions is the menagerie near East 64th Street, home to elephants, zebras, bison, big cats, and monkeys, among other creatures.
On November 9, the New York Herald ran an article reporting that all the animals had escaped their cages and were roaming free in the park, leaving dozens of people “mutilated, trampled, and injured,” not to mention killed.
It wasn’t true of course; at the very end the writer admits it’s a completely made up version of what might happen if conditions in the menagerie aren’t improved.
But how many people read all the way to the end of the piece? Not many, considering the panic that gripped New Yorkers that day. The entire city fell into a frenzy before finding out that it was all a hoax.
The rival New York Times was miffed enough to editorialize about the stunt. The Times article called it “a violation not only of journalistic propriety and a due respect for the public, but also of common decency and humanity.”
I love this last line in the article at left, “Governor Dix Shoots the Bengal Tiger in the Street.” Can you imagine Governor Paterson doing that?