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Fugitive hyena didn't have the last laugh

August 29th, 2019 8:00 AM

A spotted hyena, native to Africa, was able to escape from the Lincoln Park Zoo in 1897. The thin, likely terrified animal, made his way to the Orchards and strawberry patches at the Altenheim, where he met the end, from equally terrified staff. Photo courtesy of A_Peach.

By Historical Society

Chance the Snapper, the  alligator who grabbed headlines in the Humboldt Park Lagoon back in July, was not the first unlikely visitor to wander the West Side and suburbs.    Chance, likely an illegal pet who's owner set him free in the lagoon, did not make it very far-- unlike Jim the Hyena.
In 1897, a hyena escaped Lincoln Park Zoo.  The hunt for "Jim" included Graceland Cemetery, where several employees spotted him.  For days the Chicago Tribune covered the story of the hyena on the loose, and children in Edgewater and Rogers Park stayed indoors.  
Jim eventually made his way to the Altenheim, the German Old People's home, 14 miles away, in the vicinity of present day Madison and Van Buren, in Forest Park.  As the Tribune reported on June, 22 1897, F. Fisher, heard howling at 3 o'clock in the morning and went out to see what the trouble was.  The hounds, were "running about the orchard baying fiercely" and when one animal "bounded toward him," Fischer climbed a tree for safety.

 He eventually climbed down and woke several employees but they could not locate Jim.  At 6 o'clock, as Superintendent Mertens was picking strawberries in the garden he heard rustling and found himself face to face with the Jim, the escaped hyena.  He and another employee, Redlich, grabbed their weapons and once again found the hyena in the strawberry patch. 
It was there that Jim, the fugitive hyena's life came to an end.  
 
Special thanks to Dave Marcincus for clipping this tip from the August 8, 2019 Chicago Reader.  To explore more fence hopping sea lions, chilled-out coyote and other animal exploits, read Jeff Nichol's article Chicago Animals Gone Wild.