Fighting ignorance since 1973 Its taking longer than we thought
Did a phantom kangaroo once haunt Chicago?
I came across a cryptozoology reference which claims Chicago police
pursued a mysterious kangaroo or kangaroo-like creature in October, 1974,
but the critter escaped. What was that all about? Did it even happen?
It wasn't a kangaroo, Una. It was a phantom kangaroo. A kangaroo is a cute story in the newspapers for a couple months. A phantom kangaroo, as the cryptozoologists prefer to put it, takes us into the realm of myth. Mark my words, the legend of the phantom kangaroo(s) of Chicago will be told around the campfires a thousand years hence.
The story broke on October 19, 1974, when the Tribune reported that a 150-pound kangaroo had made monkeys out of two Chicago cops in Jefferson Park. That should put you on your guard right there. Nothing ever happens in Jefferson Park, and the cops have a lot of time on their hands. This tempts them to be inventive. (I have personal knowledge of this. No, I'm not giving you any details.) Ain't claiming that's what happened here, just saying I wouldn't rule it out.
Here's what happened, according to the Trib:
A few observations:
To no one's surprise, the story proved to have, you should pardon the expression, legs. The headline over the next day's report read: Invader still staying jump ahead of police. Lame, you say? OK, Mr. or Ms. Literary Critic, we'll put you on the copy desk and hand you a kangaroo-eludes-cops story. I dare you to resist.
The account had its dubious aspects. I quote:
Let's pause right there. The kid is a Trib news carrier. The news carriers work for the circulation department. The circulation department's job is to (duh) increase circulation. What better way to accomplish this than to find excuses to keep running ridiculous stories about kangaroos? You don't suppose ?
Nah. Back to our tale:
Hold on, Trib editors. Your story the previous day said somebody called to report a missing kangaroo. This person has now evaporated. We also have the cops evidently doubting the testimony of their brother officers, Ciangi and Byrne, even though we know from experience that cops will back up virtually anything another cop says. What do we deduce when they express skepticism? Nothing. Just making an observation, is all.
I'm not going to summarize every kangaroo story that ran from this point on, because it would take up the remaining capacity of the Internet. However, the October 23 update in the Trib is worth a mention for two reasons:
By this time the kangaroo story had been picked up by the wire services and was running around the country and in Australia. The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Washington Post all weighed in. Radio stations played the old Rolf Harris song, "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport." President Gerald Ford, discussing the kangaroo situation before a gathering of Republicans in Chicago, said, "The Democrats want to register it [i.e., the kangaroo] to vote, at least once." The crowd busted a gut. We post-moderns may scoff, but it beats what passes for political discourse today.
Initially confined to a few square blocks on the northwest side, the kangaroo began to roam increasingly widely. A November 3 story said an off-duty patrolman had seen the animal near Plano, some 50 miles southwest of Chicago. The next day, three Plano teenagers were reported to have spotted the kangaroo standing on a highway at 9 p.m. Saturday night. Two other teenagers told of seeing the animal on the city's southwest side a half hour later. Possible explanations: (1) Kangaroos can travel 100 MPH. (2) Multiple kangaroos were now on the scene. (3) Teenagers. Saturday night. 'Nuff said.
After that kangaroo sightings became less frequent, tho (see?) still interesting. On November 13, Jeff Jarvis, doubtless sensing a Pulitzer, reported that three residents of Rensselaer, Indiana had observed the kangaroo. His story, however, provided details on only two, the excitement of the chase perhaps having caused him to lose count. (Headline: Kangaroo has Indiana hopping now.)
On November 16, a woman on the west side found a mysterious mammal on her doorstep. On investigation it turned out not to be a kangaroo but a squirrel monkey, an interesting development all by itself. (Headline: An unwelcome doormat Kangaroo alert was a wild goose chase. The Trib copy desk is surely thinking: We can keep this up for months.)
On November 24, the Australian consulate in Chicago reported that a kangaroo had been dragged out of the ocean by a fisherman about three kilometers off the coast of Australia. A weary nation thinks: Please, let this be the end of it.
No such luck. The Wall Street Journal ran a page 1 story on December 11 reporting that "the police of two states" were pursuing the kangaroo "with guns and helicopters" but were "hopping-mad because they can't seem to get their hands on him." The paper said there had been nearly 50 sightings over a 250 mile area, including one near Indianapolis November 25, which kiboshed the swam-home hypothesis. An animal expert blamed it all on mass hysteria: "It's really a UJO an unidentified jumping object."
I'll omit the Christian Science Monitor's page 1 story on December 31, and skip past the Washington Post's July 15, 1975 bulletin about a kangaroo sighting near Decatur, Illinois. I merely note that today if you Google "Chicago cryptozoology kangaroo," you get a lot of hits like this:
See? Right up there with the abominable snowman and the Loch Ness monster. Maybe the phantom kangaroo legend began on a slow news night in Chicago, but it belongs to the ages now.
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