The following is from the Wisconsin Daily Tribune by Rhonda Whetstone Neibauer in her “Rhonda’s View Rendezvous” column. The original accounts of this Mystery Cat were declared the “Best Story of the Year” – for 1949.
Also, as a marginal note, it must be told, the artist that they brought in to sketch this cryptid was Grim Natwick (pictured above), who is best known for drawing the Fleischer Studio’s extremely popular character, Betty Boop. At Disney, he worked on Mickey Mouse, Snow White, and Fantasia. I don’t know why anyone would think they won’t get a cartoonish outcome with Natwick behind the drawing pen. It seemed a decision based more on the fact he was locally important.
Here’s the new story on the old case:
Lion on the loose in area!
Seen a lion around Wisconsin Rapids lately? Back in 1949, more than one person did.
It all started at 11:30 p.m. one March night when Lester Ress and wife were northwest of Rudolph, traveling home. They watched a lion leap a fence and head south on Highway S. Both agreed it was a lion and not a large dog, as they noted the coloring, a bushy mane and tuft on the tail.
Sheriff Art Berg was notified, but nothing came of his investigations.
Two days later, “big game” hunters from Rudolph decided to see if they could track it after Undersheriff Art Boll and Officer Don Caylor found four-inch clawed paw prints and a stride of 49 inches at the scene.
The Daily Tribune kept readers apprised of the hunt and the fact that until it was again spotted, nothing could be done to track it, although Deputy Sheriffs Walter Wittenberg of Wisconsin Rapids and Anton Kundinger of Auburndale planned a safari in the area.
The Heart of Wisconsin Sports Show was just opening at Lincoln Fieldhouse, and arrangements were made to display the beast if captured alive.
Just a week after the initial sighting, the Wood County Conservation League offered a $10 reward for the lion, dead or alive. A hunter with a “thick Scandinavian accent” claimed to have it, but would not produce it.
One month later, the lion was seen in Plover by Anton Sankey when he pulled into his driveway.
On June 9, the animal made its way back to Wood County. According to Sheriff Berg, Byron Moody saw it in Saratoga on the shoulder of Highway Z, six miles south of Wisconsin Rapids. Ronald Owens also reported seeing it June 8, and a week earlier, Cecelia Jensen told Deputy Pucker that it was eating from a pig trough out at her place in the same area.
Berg spent two days trying to track the lion, described as about 3 feet high, with a large head and wide-set eyes. Tracks indicated the animal was clawed and of the cat family.
Finally, time for a “suspect” sketch, former local artist Grim Natwick, who was visiting family here, was contacted and sketches made. Natwick, being a cartoonist, turned out cartoon-like sketches, to the delight of those already doubting it was anything but a large dog.
Three-and-a-half months after the initial sighting, law enforcement was nearly “hysterical” with no solution in sight, but it did not take long for merchants to cash in.
Diebel’s Grocery ad, incorporating Natwick’s sketch, stated, “No ‘Lyin’ Here. There’s no ‘lyin’ about it when Diebels Grocery says it delivers the best.” They also offered a year’s supply of pencil stubs to anyone bringing in the lion, preferably dead.
Finally, lion mania disappeared, until Dec. 24, when it was voted the Best Story of the Year by the Tribune.
Although never seen here again, it should be noted that shortly after, an Associated Press dispatch mentioned the appearance of such a mysterious animal in an area in southern Wisconsin.