Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Animal Mystery in 1905 NYC

I was searching the Library of Congress newspaper archives today, and came across the following post in New York Tribune, dated April 30, 1905:

An Animal Mystery - Killed By A Blast

Excavators for Phipps Houses Scared by Strange Beast

When "Pat" Cochran, foreman of a gang of laborers at work in an excavation at 63rd-st. and Amsterdam-ave., fired a blast yesterday morning, he expected that, as usual, heavy pieces of rock would be thrown up from the bowels of the earth. The pieces of rock flew up all right, but then there appeared from amid the crumbling ruins of what a second previously had been a piece of solid granite a long, hairy monster, with grinning mouth and birdlike talons, and a tail that was not a tail, the like of which had never before seen seen by Cochran or his gang.

There were twenty laborers in the gang. Italian and Irish. They had all climbed out of the four foot excavation to await the explosion of the blast. When the explosion came they jumped into the hole again, and it was then that they discovered the beast.

Cochran was the first to see it. He couldn't help seeing it, for according to eye witnesses the extraordinary thing sprang directly at him as soon as the foreman reached the bottom of the hole. Cochran gave a yell. His subordinates scrambled out of the hole panic-stricken and took to their heels. The Italians crossed them-selves and muttered prayers. The Irish contingent to a man sought nerve bracers in a nearby saloon. Meanwhile the intrepid Cochran raised his shovel to meet the onslaught of "the thing." With all his strength he struck it a killing blow on the back of the head.

Then Cochran, white-faced and shuddering, touched "the thing" with a hand that trembled and satisfied himself that he had killed it. Cautiously he raised the three feet of hairy body on his shovel and bore it triumphantly into Forn's saloon, Amsterdam-ave. and 64th-st. There he placed the thing on the bar and tossed down a strong drink as quickly as the barkeeper could supply it.

George Forn, the proprietor of the saloon, examined the animal with awe and curiosity. "what d'yer call it?" he asked of Cochran. "Holymother, how should I know?" growled the foreman. "It is strange to me. Never have I seen such a thing till this day, God help me. Me old father in Ireland will not believe it when I write him."

"Will you sell it?" asked the saloonkeeper.

"Sell it," gasped Cochran. "It's yours, man, for a bottle of booze."

The deal was made and all yesterday "the thing" had a place of honor on the sideboard of the saloon, next to the cash register. News of it spread abroad and many curious persons came to see it. By 10 o'clock last night the saloonkeepr estimated eight hundred persons had visited his place. There was only one in all that crowd who attempted to give the monster a name. He was a l0th-ave. amateur naturalist. This man turned the thing over and examined it curiously. "It is undoubtedly some kind of sloth." he said "but a different variety to any I have ever seen or heard of."

A Tribune reporter pushed his way through the crowd before the bar last night and examined the monster at close range. He found an animal three feet in length, with a head something like that of a squirrel, fur bearing a close resemblance to a much advertised breakfast food, and the claws of a bird. The reporter felt of the thing's body, and beneath the fur coat were the ribs of a human being. The tail was hard as rock and only a quarter of an inch in length. A colored man who had emptied many glasses stood at a comer of the bar, surveying the strange thing with dilating eyes and at frequent intervals uttering bloodcurdling howls of terror.

Even stranger mystery than the monster's identity is how it came to be found in the 64th-st. excavation. The foundation of the first of the Henry Phipps model tenements is being dug there. If the thing is of the sloth family, its habitat must have been South America. How, then, came it here? The learned of Amsterdam-ave. spent last night asking themselves this question.

According to George Forn, the proprietor of the saloon, yesterday was not the first day the monster was seen. For the last three weeks colored men In the neighborhood have reported a strange thing roaming around the rocks of 64th-st. Until yesterday the stories of these colored men were scorned as idle tales.

One theory advanced last night was that the thing may have escaped from the Hagenbeck animal collection, which was exhibited at the St. Nicholas Rink, nearby, some years ago. Another theory advanced was that the monster was one of the wild creatures of Central Park, a relic of the time when the park was wild country.

Mr. Forn says he will donate the animal to the Museum of Natural History. Last night he was called up on the telephone and informed that one of the directors of the museum would visit the saloon and examine the animal, but up to a late hour this authority had not arrived. - New-York Tribune. (New York [N.Y.]), 30 April 1905

NOTE: I searched the entire database and didn't find any updates as to the identity of the creature. The article mentioned the Hagenbeck animal collection...you may want to read the link, if you're interested in the circus and animal exhibits. Very interesting. Amsterdam Ave and 64th St is in the Upper West Side of Manhattan and currently the location of Lincoln Square...home of the New York Public Library and close to the Metropolitan Opera. The Phipps House tenements, where this creature was found, was located where Lincoln Center sits today. I have added a few images below. Lon

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Unusual Creatures: A Mostly Accurate Account of Some of Earth's Strangest Animals

Amsterdam Ave. and 64th St currently looking south

The building where the creature was found - 1905

Courtyard of the same building


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