One of the most enduring explanations put forth to explain sightings of anomalous apes is that they are not unknown animals, but actually escapees from zoos and menageries. If there were just one or two cases on record, one might be inclined to suggest the stories possess a degree of merit. That there are, however, dozens of such stories, is a good indication they are a relatively modern day myth that has a habit of taking hold and perpetuating. In 2009, paranormal expert and author Mike Dash was leafing through a copy of the December 8, 1878 edition of England’s Sheldrake’s Aldershot & Sandhurst Military Gazette, and came across a fascinating story in its pages that sat below the eye-opening headline of: Capturing a Gorilla in Shropshire. The article began in an appropriately controversial fashion: "For a fortnight past the district around Madeley Wood, Salop, has been in a state of intense excitement, by the alleged depredations committed by a gorilla, which is said to have escaped from a wild beast menagerie traveling to Bridgnorth [italics mine]. The animal was stated to have first made his appearance in the neighborhood of that town, where in the darkness of the night it was severally seen by a clergyman and a policeman, both of whom fled. It is also said to have appeared at several places in the immediate neighborhood."
If the story was true, then it seems to have led to a spectacular case of mistaken identity, and near-tragedy, too, as the Gazette’s writer noted: "A few evenings since the occupier of a house in Madeley Wood went to bed at a reasonable hour, with the greater portion of his family, leaving his 'gude wife' up, who took the opportunity to visit a neighbor, leaving the door open and a candle burning. Returning in a short time, she was horrified at seeing a bent form, with a goodly array of gray hair around its face, crouching over the expiring embers of the fire, apparently warming itself, the light having gone out. Too frightened to shriek, she ran to her neighbors, who quickly armed themselves with pokers, iron bars, guns, and pitchforks and other instruments of a similar character, and marched in a body to capture the gorilla."
The "gorilla" – on this occasion, anyway – turned out to be nothing of the sort, as the article made clear to one and all: "The form was seen sitting at the fire, but evidently aroused by the approaching body, rose to its full height and revealed the figure of an eccentric character well known in the neighborhood as 'Old Johnny,' who seeing the door open had quietly walked in to light his pipe, accidentally 'puffed' the candle out, and was very near being captured, if not exterminated, in mistake for an escaped gorilla." The on-the-loose animal, reported the Gazette, 'has not been heard of since.'" The reason I mention all of the above, is because the location is only a stone’s throw from Bridge 39, on the Shropshire Union Canal, where a creature called the Man-Monkey was seen, just a few weeks after the article was published. It's a story that I have dug deep into over the years. Now, onto the United States.
Taking a trip across the Atlantic, there is the Beaman Monster of Kansas City, Missouri, USA. Close to Beaman is the city of Sedalia, where, allegedly, in 1904, a train crashed in the vicinity, and which just happened to be carrying a large number of circus animals [italics mine], including a mighty gorilla that stood twelve feet tall! That gorillas don’t grow anywhere near twelve feet in height did not stop the legend from developing suggesting they do exactly that! The descendants of this Goliath-like animal (and, presumably, a similar escapee of the opposite sex and size) are, locals conclude, today's man-monsters of Beaman. Then, on January 28, 1921, an article, titled Chase Gorilla to Mountains, appeared in the pages of the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Times. In part, it stated: "'Gorilla' warfare which was started last week in the vicinity of Idaville, when Adams County residents, well armed, pursued what is believed to be an animal that escaped from a circus car when it was wrecked [italics mine], not long ago, was renewed by citizens of Rouzerville Wednesday night when an armed posse scoured the Blue Ridge slopes in the hope of getting a shot at the beast."
Said to lurk deep in the swamps of Louisiana, USA, the Honey Island Swamp Monster, as it has become infamously known, has been reported roaming the area since the early 1960s. Local folklore tells of the crash of a train in the area during the early years of the 20th Century. And guess what? The train was supposedly transporting...a variety of animals on behalf of a traveling circus, which included a number of chimpanzees that made a quick and spectacular bid for freedom in the wake of the crash. The result: The now free chimps bred with the local alligator population (yes, you did read that right!), and spawned the nightmarish monster of the swamps.
As an interesting aside, in the U.K. in 1985, an alleged dangerous "Alien Big Cat" (also known as an "ABC") was said to be on the roam in the north of England - having fled a zoo. When the controversy - and the intrigue - was at its height, one of the locals said firmly to the media: "They all come from Knaresborough Zoo, you know." The Circus/Zoo escapees" angle (or legend) is without doubt a robust one. Indeed, it's been around for more for more than a century!