THE GREAT CENTRAL PARK ZOO ESCAPE
“It is safe to say that at least 20,000 people filled the various walks and avenues yesterday. To nine-tenths of the pedestrian visitors, the Menagerie (the zoo) is the chief source of attraction. . . This writer stood within a hundred yards of the menagerie when the first ominous symptoms of the approaching catastrophe were heard. . . The crowd fled in all directions, women falling as they ran and no one staying to help them up”
“They’re coming; they’re all loose,” the account continued. “Police armed with revolvers and citizens with rifles were on the grounds. . . Toward Fifth Avenue came the Numidia lion, with a series of bounds. So sudden, fierce, and powerful was the leap he made into the midst of the storming party that he scattered half a hundred armed and unarmed men.”
The people who didn’t read all the way to the end of the story missed an important detail, however. The last paragraph read, “Of course the entire story given above is a pure fabrication. Not one word of it is true. Not a single act or incident described has taken place.” WHAT? WHY?
Bennett had proven his point, in a most unethical way, with his fictitious story of the animal escapes. Competing newspapers in New York, and across the country, deplored the hoax. The New York Times wrote, “If charming sketches of dead children and dying old ladies does not move the reader to roars of laughter, his sense of fun must be somewhat different from that with which the proprietor of the New York Herald has been endowed.”
The New York Herald never offered an apology. No charges were ever brought against the paper. And James Gordon Bennett Jr. sang his own praises for another half century.