The opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OnMilwaukee.com, its advertisers or editorial staff.
This Milwaukee lion story never gets old. I thought for a brief second that the Milwaukee lion (or lion-like, cougarish creature or whatever it is) might have jumped the shark right around the time a guy shot a pitbull because he thought it was the lion (which you just knew was inevitable).
Seriously? He thought a dog was a lion? The jokes write themselves (although I feel sorry for the dog, as a dog being shot is not funny). The pictures of cops hunting a lion in urban Milwaukee were rather enjoyable. And not in a bad way. The Milwaukee lion has put us on the national map for something other than Scott Walker and beer. Again, not a bad thing.
As of press time, the cops thought they had contained the lion near the Lincoln Creek Parkway after it was spotted by a police officer, possibly with a cub. And then it slipped it away, elusive as Big Foot, ensuring all the more its standing as a new Milwaukee legend, right up there with Hank the Dog, Samson and Dick Bacon.
I love the Milwaukee lion. I love it as a story, and I love it as a community bridge. The Milwaukee lion has actually accomplished something exceptionally rare in Wisconsin these days: It’s uniting people, and it’s given us a common conversation. We’re almost all interested in the lion, and we’re not arguing about it either (imagine that!).
No one has blamed Scott Walker for the lion. No one has blamed Mayor Tom Barrett or his trolley for the lion (as far as I can tell anyway).
In that way, the lion reminds me most of Hank the Dog. I love Hank the Dog. My kid loves Hank the Dog. We all love Hank the Dog. He made us forget how bad the Brewers were. He’s a community mascot like the Bronze Fonz (but a lot cuter). He made more of us want to go to Brewers games to see him, and he’s a merchandise bonanza.
The Milwaukee lion is like a much more dangerous version of Hank the Dog. You won’t find Hank the Dog mauling cats on the north side.
However, I think it would be sheer genius if officials capture the Milwaukee lion and put the lion in the Milwaukee County Zoo. Create an entire exhibit around it (and its cub). Create a T-shirt and other merchandise. I am dead serious here. Even if it’s not a lion, and it turns out to be a cougar or something. Who cares? It will always be the Milwaukee lion-like thing to us now (sorry Milverine).
I would also support putting the creature in a wildlife sanctuary, if the zoo doesn't work out. I think it would be awful if the creature is put down, as officials told the media previously was the plan. The creature should not be put down – that's the bottom line – if at all possible. Safely and humanely capture it.
But let’s be honest: The zoo has gotten a little boring. How many times can you walk around and look at penguins or that barn thing (although the bonobos are cool). As with the Streets of Old Milwaukee, the zoo could use a new draw. It hasn’t really had a marquee draw that we all know and love since Samson. In that way, the Milwaukee lion is kind of our new Samson more than Hank. Or it could be.
Remember Samson? Many of us do. When I was a kid, I went to see Samson the Gorilla at the zoo. As with the Streets of Old Milwaukee, going to see Samson was nostalgic for a lot of people because it connected them to their childhoods. When Samson died, the zoo lost a marquee exhibit. In case you are too young or new to the city to remember Samson, he was heralded as the "Ape that Makes Milwaukee Famous" by the Milwaukee Journal in 1975. He was at the zoo for more than 30 years, and he was known for his 600-pound plus heft. Samson died in 1981, and many Milwaukeeans still talk about him and remember him.
How many people would go to the zoo to see the Milwaukee lion? Think about it. It could be a boon for taxpayers. The creature could be a new Milwaukee mascot.
In a state riven by division and controversy, there is nothing controversial about the lion at all. Unless the cops shoot it. I think that would be a huge mistake.
Back in the day, when I was a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, I once wrote a story about the police putting down a carriage horse in Downtown Milwaukee after it was hit by a car. The story was accompanied by a photo of the police shooting the horse (a photo that I didn’t choose or see because reporters just turn in the text).
Needless to say, I fielded about 100 calls from ballistic readers calling for my head. People will respond to animal stories far more than they will respond to people stories. That’s a bit of a sad commentary. But, stating the obvious, if the police find and kill this creature – even if it’s dangerous – they are going to be in for quite a firestorm. But if they tranquilize it, capture it and put it in the zoo, we will all go see it for years.
I would. I’d take my kid. The Milwaukee lion somehow wandered into our stark urban landscape. Poor thing, really. Let’s give it a proper welcome.
Jessica McBride spent a decade as an investigative, crime, and general assignment reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and is a former City Hall reporter/current columnist for the Waukesha Freeman.
She is the recipient of national and state journalism awards in topics that include short feature writing, investigative journalism, spot news reporting, magazine writing, blogging, web journalism, column writing, and background/interpretive reporting. McBride, a senior journalism lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has taught journalism courses since 2000.
Her journalistic and opinion work has also appeared in broadcast, newspaper, magazine, and online formats, including Patch.com, Milwaukee Magazine, Wisconsin Public Radio, El Conquistador Latino newspaper, Investigation Discovery Channel, History Channel, WMCS 1290 AM, WTMJ 620 AM, and Wispolitics.com. She is the recipient of the 2008 UWM Alumni Foundation teaching excellence award for academic staff for her work in media diversity and innovative media formats and is the co-founder of Media Milwaukee.com, the UWM journalism department's award-winning online news site. McBride comes from a long-time Milwaukee journalism family. Her grandparents, Raymond and Marian McBride, were reporters for the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel.
Her opinions reflect her own not the institution where she works.