Terror swept the streets of New York on November 9, 1874. In the city that never sleeps, where just about anything can happen without causing a New Yorker to turn his head, this was a day to be remembered.
What was it that caused men to tread with caution on the sidewalks and made frightened mothers pull their children in from the streets? That was the day everyone lived in fear of being attacked by wild animals that escaped from the biggest zoo break in history.
The New York Herald featured the breathless account of the mass escape from the Central Park Zoo. The pages were filled with panicked accounts of policemen fighting off crazed monkeys; elephants, lions, and bears terrorizing Fifth Avenue; and numerous other accounts of polar bears, panthers, hyenas, and a Bengal tiger threatening human life at every turn.
According to the Herald, it was a rhinoceros that led the break-out. The crazed creature apparently gored his keeper to death and then worked up the rest of the animals into such a frenzy that the mass escape soon ensued.
Those who held back panic long enough to read to the end of the article saw these words in the final paragraph: “Of course, the entire story given above is a pure fabrication. Not one word of it is true. Not a single act or incident described has taken place. It is a huge hoax, a wild romance, a whatever other epithet of utter untrustworthiness our readers may choose to apply to it. It is simply a fancy picture which crowded upon the mind of the writer a few days ago while he was gazing through the iron bars of the cages of the wild animals in the menagerie at Central Park.”
Unfortunately, many people did not quite make it to the end of the article before giving in to the grips of terror. Widespread panic filled the Big Apple for days afterwards.
See the actual news account here.