- HISTORY & HAUNTINGS OF ILLINOIS -
Mysterious phantom panthers are not the only strange creatures to appear (and disappear) in Illinois. Can we explain these “displaced” animals as escapees from the local zoo or a passing circus train? You be the judge!
NELLIE THE LION
Many people have been able to accept the idea that black panthers do occasionally turn up in Illinois, but what about African Lions? According to newspaper and personal accounts from 1917, a lion did turn up and for nearly a month, "Nellie the Lion" was the terror of Central Illinois.
The lion first appeared in July 1917 on the estate of Robert Allerton, located near Monticello. A lion of some sort had been reported on the grounds and had apparently killed several pieces of livestock. One afternoon, the Allerton butler, Thomas Gullett, was out picking flowers when he was attacked by what he referred to as an "African lioness". The butler suffered only some minor cuts and scratches, but the search was soon on for the beast.
Robert Allerton offered a $250 reward to the hunter that killed the animal and an armed posse of more than 300 men turned up for a search of the large and heavily wooded estate. Allerton’s farm manager bought a quantity of fresh meat and placed it in strategic locations. He hoped to lure the animal into a trap, but had no luck. The lion was seen later that day by two hunters who had given up on the day’s search. Shortly after midnight. Paul and Lee Bear spotted the lion crossing a road in front of their truck. They managed to get off a few shots at it, but the lion jumped a fence and disappeared into corn field.
The search resumed the next day and while hunters were tramping through the woods, the lion appeared again at the Allerton house. Mrs. Shaw, the chief housekeeper, got a good look at it and like Gullett, described it as an "African lioness."
On July 17, tracks were discovered near Decatur that were five inches long and four inches wide. Two boys claimed to see the lion later that same day, prowling along the Sangamon River.
Thanks to newspaper reports and wild rumors, public hysteria mounted in Central Illinois. People mistook dogs for the lion and one farmer became involved a widely reported dispute about whether he had mistaken the headlights of an approaching vehicle for the beast’s shining eyes. He denied it, but couldn’t explain why he had put a bullet into the truck’s radiator!
What may have seemed funny in the newspapers came as no joke to Earl Hill, Chester Osborn and the two men’s wives on July 29. The two couples were motoring west of Decatur on the Springfield Road when the lion pounced on their car and tried to attack them. Hill and Osborn, sitting in the front seat of the vehicle, first saw the animal standing in the weeds on the side of the road. The animal jumped at them and collided with the vehicle, which was traveling at about 20 miles per hour. The couple hurriedly drove back to Decatur and summoned the police, who followed them back to the scene. To their surprise, the lion was still there, although it vanished over a hill when they arrived. The two lone policemen chose not to pursue it without heavier weapons. They returned in the early morning hours with two carloads of other officers. The men were all armed with high-powered rifles. They searched the area for several hours, but finding nothing, they returned to Decatur.
On July 31, a farm hand named James Rutherford spotted the lion near a gravel pit. The animal looked at him without interest and then wandered away. Rutherford gathered a group of hunters and brought them back to the scene. They found nothing save for a number of paw prints and a half-eaten calf, which the owner stated had been missing for four days.
After that, Nellie vanished into oblivion and was never heard from again. Today, the story is only remembered as a legend but newspapers and testimony of the era assures us that the lion really did exist.
While lions and black panthers are certainly strange visitors to Illinois, I can think of an even stranger one... kangaroos! Reports of mysterious kangaroos have been surprisingly widespread across northern Illinois. Are they escapees from zoos, or some sort of transported mystery beasts?
In the early morning hours of October 18, 1974, two Chicago police officers answered a call from a local resident who claimed that a kangaroo was sitting on his front porch. This particular call got a good laugh from officers and radio dispatchers until a few hours later when the two cops had the five-foot high animal cornered in a dark alley. One of the officers inexplicably thought that it would be a good idea to try and handcuff the animal. He gave this a try and the kangaroo suddenly started screeching and became vicious. It began punching the officers in the face and kicking them in the shins. Understandably, the officers backed off! A minute or two later, additional squad cars arrived and the kangaroo took off at high speed. It cleared a fence and vanished from the scene.
What seemed to be a isolated (albeit bizarre) incident was only the beginning of a "flap" of Midwestern kangaroo sightings, which occurred all over Illinois and Wisconsin.
The kangaroo was seen again the next day around Belmont and Oak Park when a paperboy heard the squeal of brakes from a car. He turned and spotted a kangaroo just a few feet away. The boy and the animal looked at one another and it hopped away... the kangaroo, I mean.
On October 23, it was seen again, this time in Chicago’s Schiller Woods, near Irving Park Road. Then on November 1, it was spotted by a Plano police officer, just outside of city limits. He stated that the kangaroo jumped more than 8 feet from a cornfield into the roadway. It was spotted again the following night.
A half hour after the last Plano sighting, the same kangaroo (or another mystery beast) was reported 50 miles away, back in Chicago. On November 3, the kangaroo was reported by Frank Kocherver in a forest preserve. On November 4, a truck driver spotted the kangaroo and a deer in nearby field. He got out to examine the tracks and became convinced that his sighting was correct. On November 6, a truck driver near Lansing narrowly missed hitting a kangaroo and a flap of Indiana sightings began a few days later.
In July 1975, a kangaroo showed up near Decatur. Mrs. Rosemary Hopwood was traveling along Route 128, near Dalton City, when she saw an animal along the side of the road that she first mistook for a dog. She looked again and realized the animal was a kangaroo! It hopped away into a cornfield and disappeared. Three days later, several anonymous witnesses, a few of which have contacted me in recent years, also reported seeing a kangaroo in the general area.
Could this creature have really been a kangaroo? Many of the sightings in Wisconsin around this time seem to point toward a much more aggressive animal. In fact, “killer kangaroo” behavior caused one such animal to be labeled as a “werewolf” in 1972. A kangaroo-like creature was reported to have attacked a horse there, leaving a 30-inch gash across the horse’s chest.
In his book, THE I-FILES, author Jay Rath suggests that what was mistaken for a kangaroo may have actually been a “Chupacabra”, the famed “goat-sucker”, which was assumed to have made its first appearance in Puerto Rico in 1995. Since that time, it has been reported all over the southern United States and even in some northerly regions. The creatures are usually described as being like very vicious, “kangaroos”. Could some of these anomalous creatures have been even stranger than “out of place” kangaroos??
ALLIGATORS IN THE SEWER
Remember one of the most famous urban legends of all time? It was the story that alligators were living in the sewers of some of our major American cities. Legend had it that these creatures had been brought back from Florida as tiny creatures. Once the alligators started to grow, concerned parents realized that their children’s pets would soon turn into creatures of monstrous proportions. They quickly flushed them down the toilet. Once in the sewer system, the alligators grew to be huge, feeding off the rats and the garbage of the city... and occasionally eating the unsuspecting utility worker or transient.
Pretty wild, huh? But would it surprise you to discover that these stories have a basis in fact? Newspapers and books have featured a number of accounts from sewer workers who have encountered these beasts over the years.
Anything might be possible under the streets of New York... but what about the streets of Illinois? It may be hard to imagine that alligators can make appearances here, but records and reports prove that they have turned up here on occasion.
The first account that I have been able to find (thanks to author Loren Coleman) is from February 1892, when a gator turned up in a Chicago storm drain. The next report dates back to August 1937 when an alligator was spotted in a small outlet off of Lake Decatur.
In October 1966, two Decatur fishermen captured a small alligator that measured a little over a foot long. The two men were on Lake Decatur when they discovered the baby alligator in the company of its much larger mother. They estimated the parent creature to be around six feet long. At the sight of the larger alligator, they abandoned their fishing spot, taking the smaller animal with them. The local newspaper featured a story on the two fishermen that contained a photograph of one of the men, Richard Stubblefield, holding the baby alligator.
And Decatur’s sewer system holds mysteries of its own...
It seems that in June 1967, an alligator was pulled from a drainpipe at 895 West Eldorado Street. The animal was less than a foot long, but one has to wonder how large its mother must have been?
In July 1970, an alligator was spotted in a man-made lake near Lombard and another gator was spotted in the Sangamon River near Oakley in August 1971. In September 1972, a creature was seen crawling across the highway near Chenoa and then abruptly disappeared.
This was the last recorded sighting of an alligator in our area to date, but you cannot help but wonder if there may be more of them lurking in the darkness underneath our cities and small towns. What might be lurking down there? That’s something to think about the next time that you pass an open storm drain!
MYSTERIOUS AMERICA BY LOREN COLEMAN (1983/ 2000)
CURIOUS ENCOUNTERS BY LOREN COLEMAN (1985)
"MYSTERY ANIMALS INVADE ILLINOIS" BY LOREN COLEMAN (FATE / 1971)
HAUNTED ILLINOIS BY TROY TAYLOR (1999)
THE "HAUNTED DECATUR SERIES" BY TROY TAYLOR (1995 - 1997)
GHOSTS OF SPRINGFIELD BY TROY TAYLOR (1997)
HAUNTED DECATUR REVISITED (2000)
GHOSTS OF LITTLE EGYPT BY TROY TAYLOR (1998)
HAUNTED ALTON BY TROY TAYLOR (2000)
INTO THE SHADOWS BY TROY TAYLOR (2002)
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COPYRIGHT 2000 BY TROY TAYLOR. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.