Man-eating lions in Chicago

Man-eating lions in Chicago

I've been to the Field Museum a billion times, and I'm ashamed to admit that I'm bored with it. That is, until I learned about the man-eating lions. I saw the movie "The Ghost in the Darkness," but I didn't realize it was based on a true story and that the lions were housed in the museum! This week's topic for "Did You Know, Chicago?" is the Tsavo Man-Eaters.

You always hear that lions aren't interested in hunting humans, but for nine months in 1898 two male lions stalked the campsite of British railway works, killing 135 men and eating dozens of them.

The workers took extreme measures to keep the lions away - building fires and constructing thorn fences - but nothing worked. More and more workers were killed, and construction of the railway bridge over the Tsavo River in Kenya was halted.

Not knowing what else to do, chief engineer Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson shot and killed both lions. It wasn't easy, though. Patterson wounded one, but it came back and began stalking him. He finally killed that lion, but the second one was just as hard to kill. Patterson shot it eight times before it stopped charging and finally died.

The dead lions served as Patterson's floor rugs for many years until he sold them to the Field Museum for $5,000 in 1924.

So what made these lions so insane? There are several theories. One suggests that a disease called rinderpest broke out in the area, killing the lions' usual prey and forcing them to look for other food sources. Another says that the lions may have been used to finding dead humans along the road as part of the remains of slave caravans and began going after the live ones.

Regardless of the reason, I wouldn't have wanted to be one of those railway workers.


Filed under: Did You Know, Chicago?


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    I know, right!? Those lions have a great story behind them, and the last time I was there the exhibit is kind of tucked away in an area that's easy to miss.

    Good stuff though!

  • There is always more to this story. Arch Obler of Lights Out Fame was fascinated by this story. So back in the late 30's or early 40's he produced a Lights Out story on it, Then it was picked up by a radio serial "Terry and the Pirates" and as a kid I would listen and then be afraid to go out side.
    Back in the early days of 3D movies this story first appeared under the Title "Bwana Devil", starring Robert Stack. so being thoroughly familiar with these two Lions I watched Ghost and the Darkness, with the grandkids and then on to the Field Museum.

  • That's cool that you watched the movie and then went to see the lions! I'll have to do that.

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