Be careful out there. It’s getting a little wild.
Ohio wildlife experts are tracking reports of mountain lions and black bears prowling the Akron-Canton outskirts.
Such exotic reports generate a lot of excitement, but they’re nothing new. We have a long history of unusual visitations, and, frankly, some of them are far weirder than cats and cubs.
Proving that there’s nothing new under the sun (or moon), we offer strange sightings from the past. Some of them are true. Others, maybe less so.
The Devil’s Dog
Three South Akron boys reported a terrifying apparition in August 1899 while picking berries near Thomastown at present-day Arlington Road and Triplett Boulevard.
They parked a horse-drawn wagon along a lane to explore a wooded pasture for berries. One of the youths looked up and began to scream. The others turned around and screamed, too.
According to a Beacon Journal account: “There stood a horrible creature, with flashing eyes, glistening scales, and stamping hoof, shaking his horned head and lashing the rail fence to splinters with his barbed tail. The old horse suddenly plunged and started to run. The boys clung to the wagon and ran as though the devil was after them, as they believed he was.”
Timidly returning to gather belongings, the boys reported seeing a giant dog leap from the earth. It was “a big, black, horrid looking beast, with staring eyes and no ears.”
The Beacon Journal noted that the boys had “never been known to prevaricate.”
Mass hysteria spread across Summit County in July 1911 when the Beacon Journal sponsored a publicity contest. Readers were offered a reward of $150 in gold for “the capture of the mysterious Dolly Dimples.”
The young woman provided daily clues about her whereabouts. The newspaper furnished photographic clues, including close-up pictures of the woman’s eyes, hands, hat and other apparel.
Anyone who spotted the woman was instructed to say: “Pardon me, you are the mysterious Dolly Dimples of the Akron Beacon Journal, the best home paper in Akron.”
Crowds turned out July 15-28 at sites where Miss Dimples said she would be, but she kept eluding the public. Contestants uttered the winning phrase to anyone in a dress.
“Why didn’t you capture me yesterday?” she taunted readers in her daily column.
Finally, Mary Swigert spotted Miss Dimples on July 28 as she waited for a streetcar at West Market and Balch streets.
“You are not fooling me?” Swigert asked. “Oh, how lucky I am!”
The Big Whale
Akron’s oldest residents might recall how they paid 10 cents as children to see 68 tons of embalmed bone and blubber.
“See this monster of the deep captured after 16 hours of death-defying combat!” the ads read. “You’ll gaze in awe and wonder at the mighty leviathan of the seas.”
A 55-foot whale arrived by train June 11, 1934, at the Erie freight station at Exchange Street and South Broadway.
Being dead for two years, the whale was a little ripe — to say the least.
Two embalmers traveled with the display, pumping the mighty beast’s carcass with fresh embalming fluid every 10 days.
Spectators lined up for days to see the whale under a huge glass case. Truthfully, it looked a lot more exciting in the ads.
If your grandparents ever tell you that they saw a whale in downtown Akron, they aren’t telling a fish story.
The Ice Butterfly
A winged insect’s arrival seemed miraculous on one of the coldest days of winter.
Akron plumber Charles Brown welcomed the delicate visitor Jan. 1, 1936, into his home at 175 N. College St..
“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I opened my window to air out the room, and the butterfly flew in,” he later recalled. “It alighted on a suit of clothes in just 4 degrees above zero.”
A chrysalis must have opened prematurely outside.
Brown took a big cardboard box and punched some holes in it. He cut up an apple and gave a slice to the butterfly, and it began to feed on the raw juice.
Brown considered the visitor “a gift from heaven.” He named the butterfly “Henry or Henrietta” because he wasn’t sure of its sex.
The fragile insect lived for about a month in the cozy home before fluttering off to butterfly heaven.
The Peninsula Python
The first sighting was reported June 22, 1944. Clarence Mitchell, who lived south of Peninsula, said he saw a 20-foot snake in a cornfield near the Cuyahoga River.
Two days later, a frightened Pauline Hopko caught a glimpse of a gray-and-brown reptile on Brandywine-Hudson Road. A big snake with “a head the size of a big kitchen pan” startled Ernest Raymond as he scythed grass June 29.
Sightings, real or imagined, popped up all over town. Armed with rifles and clubs, villagers went on a giant hunt but couldn’t find a python.
The last official sighting was Aug. 1 when Katherine Boroutick reported seeing a snake fall from a butternut tree and slither along the river.
“I was so scared I couldn’t even scream,” she recalled.
According to local lore, Cole Bros. Circus admitted a year later that it lost two pythons from a train near Akron. One was named Old Samson and the other was Ballet Dancer.
What if they had babies?
The Beast of East Akron
Akron police began to receive frantic calls in June 1959 about “a hairy monster” in East Akron. Police Chief Harry Whiddon said credible witnesses reported seeing a man-sized beast in Goodyear Heights Metropolitan Park near Newton Street and Brittain Road.
People described the dark brown creature as standing about 6 feet tall, but running away on all fours.
Rumors flew in Goodyear Heights. Police found a group of teenagers carrying knives and clubs while hunting for the monster. Someone heard that the creature had overturned a police cruiser and attacked two children.
No monster was ever found, but authorities had a sneaky suspicion that it was a bear.
The Portage UFO
Two police officers chased the planet Venus all the way to the Pennsylvania line — at least that’s what the U.S. military concluded.
Portage County sheriff’s deputies Dale Spaur and W.L. Neff were on predawn patrol April 17, 1966, when a light flashed above their cruiser on U.S. 224 in Randolph.
“It was so bright you couldn’t even look up at it,” Spaur recalled. “It was like looking at a welder.”
The UFO, which measured about 45 feet across and 24 feet high, floated 200 feet above the cruiser, then rose to 500 feet, and then 1,500 feet. The deputies said it zoomed east at 80 to 100 mph.
“Somebody had control over it,” Spaur said. “It wasn’t just floating around.”
They chased the object for 86 miles to Conway, Pa., before giving up. The pursuit is reported to have inspired a chase scene in the 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
The U.S. Air Force declared that the deputies had mistaken Venus for a flying saucer.
“I’ll go to my grave before I change my story,” Spaur said.
The Mystery Monkey
King Kong, this was not. However, it was still strange to see a monkey atop a West Akron mansion.
The unidentified little imp found a temporary residence in September 1973 on the roof of Ohio Edison President D. Bruce Mansfield’s home on Merriman Road. Nobody knew how it got there. There were no reports of missing pets.
“It was a real shock when we first saw him,” Louise Mansfield said. “I told my husband and he didn’t believe me at first.”
Neighbors stopped to catch a glimpse of the spry creature as it shinnied a dogwood tree and leaped from branch to branch. The Mansfield family fed it bananas and grapes.
A week later, the monkey broke through an upstairs screen at a home on North Portage Path and tore the house apart. The startled residents called in animal experts who captured the intruder.
Unlike King Kong, this story had a happy ending. The monkey was given to a new owner.
The Minerva Monster
Crickets and toads went quiet. The creature was near.
In August 1978, reports began to circulate in Stark County of a 6-foot, 300-pound creature with shaggy dark hair that was terrorizing a Paris Township family near Minerva.
Late one night, the beast peeked into the kitchen window at the home of Herbert and Evelyn Cayton. The frightened family reported seeing the foul-smelling creature several times over several weeks.
“I hope someone catches it or takes a picture of it so they know the people of Paris Township aren’t imagining things,” Evelyn Cayton said.
Hunters flocked to the woods to bag the creature, but it proved to be too elusive.
“It’s obvious to me that these people saw something,” Stark County Sheriff’s Deputy James Shannon said. “It’s now a matter of trying to figure out what they saw.”
The Sewer Alligator
This sounds like an urban legend, but it’s absolutely true.
In 1980, a 2-foot alligator emerged from a sewer in Akron’s Joy Park. The reptile apparently was purchased as a 6-inch pet, but was flushed down a toilet when he grew too large to handle.
According to urban legends, such reptiles become blind albinos that grow to 30 feet long and feast on stray pets. Fortunately, this one got out in time.
The Akron Zoo was happy to find room for “Allie the Alligator.” The critter had a pretty good life, but he kept growing. He was 4 feet long when the zoo decided to send him back to where he belonged.
Allie was crated up, put on a plane and sent to Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia to be released in the wild.
It beat living in a sewer.
Mark J. Price is a Beacon Journal copy editor. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or send email to email@example.com.