The Paulding County Hyena
On February 6, 1858 readers of the Cleveland Plain Dealer
read the following shocking news:
A HYENA LOOSE IN PAULDING COUNTY. On Wednesday morning last, between three and four o'clock, a striped hyena broke loose from his cage in the barn of Mr. Eli Watson, a few miles west of Paulding, in Paulding county. The beast is the property of Mr. Ganung (formerly of the firm of Maybe, Ganung & Co., well known circus and menagerie proprietors) who quarters his collection of animals during the winter season at the farm of the above named Mr. Watson. The monster was not missed until daylight. Raising a numerous crowd of farmers, Mr. Watson went in search of him. Knowing the terrible instincts of the animal, the party proceeded to a graveyard about a mile distant and there found him. He had disinterred two newly buried bodies and mostly devoured them. He had also partly dug up other graves. To capture the monster alive in his then infuriated state was, of course, an impossibility. Mr. Watson therefore fired a rifle at him but did not hit him. The monster sprang in among the men, pounced upon a German named Paffenberg, killing him almost instantly. A boy and two men in the crowd were also knocked over and considerably though not dangerously injured. The German was the only person killed. The hyena made for the woods. It was reported that he killed a man on his way thither, but the report is not authenticated. A large force was immediately raised, and the animal pursued, but at last accounts had not been found. The hyena formerly belonged to Van Amburgh & Co., and is said to be the largest one of his species in America. He had, we are informed, been reared in a cage and had always been considered as tame and peaceable as animals of his kind can be rendered. His escape, fearful work, and pursuit have, we need hardly add, created great excitement in the vicinity of Paulding.
Understandly the readers were concerned, but for no need. Three days later a correction appeared:
THE HYENA CORRECTION A few errors occurred in our notice of the escape of the hyena in Paulding County, the other evening. In the first place, we are reliably informed that Paffenberg was not killed by the monster, nor injured indeed at all, because the monster did not get out of his cage, and could not therefore have done it. We were also misinformed about the monster's being in Paulding at all. He is not there now, never was there, and, it is firmly believed, never will be again...
So there may not have been any hyena. But, the author assured readers, one detail from the original article definitely was correct. There was indeed a place named Paulding County.
The hyena reporting and correction were the work of Charles F. Browne, a humorist who would soon become better known as Artemus Ward. It is not recorded if he was reprimanded in any way for terrifying the readers of the Plain Dealer
Browne (aka Ward) went on to become a popular writer and lecturer whose appearances always attracted large crowds. His work is sometimes cited as an inspiration for Mark Twain
Wikipedia reports the following anecdote about a meeting between Ward and Twain: "Ward is also said to have inspired Mark Twain, after Ward performed in Virginia City, Nevada. Legend has it that following Ward's stage performance, Ward, Mark Twain, and Dan De Quille were taking a drunken rooftop tour of Virginia City, until a town constable threatened to blast all three of them with a shotgun loaded with rock salt."
Frank Luther Mott. "Facetious News Writing, 1833-1883." The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 29 (June 1942): 35-54.
Charles Farrar Browne, Wikipedia.org
Text copyright © 2002 Alex Boese