Something was loose in Perkins Woods Park.
Akron police officers responded to an emergency call about a wild animal prowling in the dark at the 79-acre preserve in June 1953.
Patrolmen Duane Harris and Jack Heislman rushed to the scene, parked their cruiser and trained their flashlights on a crazy-eyed beast.
“Meh-eh-eh-eh!” it cried.
A cute little goat stared back at police.
This was the city: Akron. It was June 19, a Thursday night.
The officers exchanged glances. This investigation was going to be weird.
“When we got to the park, we found the goat standing in front of the men’s room door at the park building, bleating its head off,” Harris told the Beacon Journal 60 years ago.
“I offered it a candy bar. That quieted him down a bit and we got to be rather chummy.”
The officers made the logical assumption that the animal had escaped from a goat enclosure at Akron Children’s Zoo, which had opened to the public only a month earlier in Perkins Woods. Not wishing to play nanny to a goat, the police decided to ditch the bewhiskered billy while they searched for clues.
“So we locked the thing in the men’s room,” Harris reported. “It was the most convenient place.”
The goat protested loudly: “Meh-eh-eh-eh!” But the officers had a job to do.
Heislman and Harris hoofed it to the zoo, where they were surprised to see that the park’s two resident goats — the only ones that lived in Perkins Woods — were safely behind bars. There was no sign of a jailbreak.
Feeling a little sheepish, the officers returned to the men’s room to retrieve their suspect.
All was quiet. Too quiet. The goat was gone.
The perplexed patrolmen looked high and low (OK, mostly low) for the escape artist but didn’t find hide nor hair. Harris and Heislman were just about to give up their search when they checked the goat enclosure one last time.
Inside were three goats.
Although they knew they would be the butt of jokes at headquarters, the officers still filled out a report in case someone was trying to pull some funny business at Perkins Woods.
No kidding. It was funny business. It was pure comedy.
This wasn’t just any goat. This was a thespian!
Police unwittingly had arrested a cast member of Mister Roberts, which was being staged May 21 through June 20, 1953, at Weathervane Community Playhouse, then located at 1474 Copley Road.
Written by Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan, the play takes a comedic look at life aboard a Navy cargo ship during World War II. Akron actor Chuck Reynolds starred as the title character supervising a motley crew of misfit sailors in the Pacific. One of them even manages to smuggle a goat aboard the vessel in the second act. A West Akron farmer lent a goat to the troupe.
“Where director Robert Beard assembled this excellent cast I’ll never know,” Beacon Journal theater critic Art Cullison wrote in his 1953 review. “Most of them have never appeared here on the stage, and several had never even been behind the footlights before. But they make a wonderful crew for the voyage. Several are ex-sailors; maybe that’s the reason.”
The cast included Jackson Morris, Jesse Skriletz, Mel Romain, Livia Bury, Don Cook, Danny Senuta, Albert Canfora, Don Bagley, Bill Mason, Mike Frank, Bill Noland, Bob Stalnaker, Bernie Margileth and Robert Craysdale.
And one live goat.
It would be rude to say that the goat overacted, but he did chew the scenery. He had a fondness for fake palm trees on the set. Sailors chased him across the stage every night — or pulled him by tether, depending on his temperament.
A broom and dustpan were kept nearby in case the goat had a show-stopping moment.
The great escape
On June 19, the night before the play’s final performance, a property master took the goat for safekeeping at the zoo. However, she couldn’t find a caretaker, so she tethered the animal in Perkins Woods and returned to the theater.
In two shakes of a lamb’s tail, the goat chewed through the rope and scampered off in search of mischief.
Weathervane troupe members returned to check on their cast mate, and found themselves in a real-life farce.
The goat was missing.
Fanning out across the park, the crew heard a strange commotion from behind the closed door of the men’s room.
It almost sounded like a muffled “Meh-eh-eh-eh!”
Troupe members had no idea how their wayward friend got inside the stall, but they freed him and led him to the zoo, where a caretaker put him in the enclosure with the other two goats. That was the scene that dumbfounded police after the theater folks had left.
The comic timing must have been perfect that evening. How did the officers and stagehands keep missing each other while leading a bleating animal around the park?
The final performance went off without a hitch the next night at Weathervane. The goat returned to the farm — its short-but-memorable stage career at an end.
“The Case of the Missing Goat” was resolved to the satisfaction of local police.
And the moral of the story?
There is more than one way to get someone’s goat.
Copy editor Mark J. Price is author of The Rest Is History: True Tales From Akron’s Vibrant Past, a book from the University of Akron Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.