Baltimore's wild history of animal attacks

WAY BACK WHEN

October 11, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Years ago, when I was covering a performance of the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus in Richmond, Va., I had the opportunity to ask the legendary but laconic Charly Baumann what it was like working with his famed troupe of tigers.

One of the highlights of Baumann's performances - which always kept spectators on the edge of their seats - was when he casually draped a tiger across his shoulders like a fur boa. It seemed he was courting death by having the cat's jaws only inches from his face and its claws loosely dangling from his shoulders.

One had to wonder what could happen to Baumann if the tiger was having an off day. The cat had all the advantages of literally tearing him to shreds or even killing him.

Baumann said that the only time he had to be careful when working with the big cats was when they were in heat. He also added that a sudden burst of light from a camera's flashbulb sometimes startled the animals, otherwise it was like playing with a housecat.

Last week, New Yorker Antoine Yates, whose 400-pound Bengal tiger Ming had the run of his seven-room apartment, found out what it was like to be attacked when the beast sank his teeth into one of Yates' arms.

Roy Horn, of Siegfried & Roy, was mauled by one of his white tigers at a performance Oct. 3 in Las Vegas. He remains in critical but stable condition.

Experts say that wild animals, no matter how long they are exposed to human affection and domesticity, still retain those genes that define them as wild.

Baltimore was the setting for two maulings that took place in 1936.

Two thousand people were settling in for a vaudeville performance at the old State Theater at Monument and Chester streets on a chilly February Sunday, when Ruthie, a 3-year-old lioness, escaped from a backstage cage and terrorized theatergoers.

Ruthie raced onstage and then through an open door to a side aisle. The animal then jumped 12 feet into the laps of 15-year-old Edward Posluzny; his brother, Leonard, 14; their 16-year-old cousin, James Posluzny, and Charles Petty, a friend.

Young Edward, who suffered a lacerated knee, at first thought it was a dog that had jumped into his lap, until cries of "lion, lion" echoed throughout the theater.

Ruthie was rapidly clawing her way toward the rear of the theater with Grover and Anita George, her trainers, in hot pursuit, while comedians Ray Sedley and Miss Chickie Dodge, continued to perform hoping to keep the audience calm.

Patrons entering the theater gave wide berth as the cat madly charged up the aisle.

A policeman, who had stepped out of the cold to momentarily warm himself in the theater lobby, was startled by the screams coming from the auditorium. Within a moment, he was greeted by the arrival of the growling Ruthie.

Ushers and ticket takers manned the doors hoping to keep Ruthie from fleeing into the street. While the lion's trainers attempted to subdue the animal, the police officer fired a shot into her shoulder, paralyzing her. The animal was later placed in a cage and taken to a veterinarian for treatment.

"I was scared blind," Alexander Jezierski, the police officer told The Sun. "A baby, hah! Why, them paws was as big as my arms. And its teeth."

Gladys Cote, performing in a vaudeville act at the Hippodrome in December, was inside an onstage cage with George, a lion, who suddenly and without warning began mauling her.

Seriously injured, Cote was taken to University Hospital. Vowing to return to the act after her recuperation, she told The Evening Sun, "It's fascinating work and I like it. I never once thought, even yesterday, that I would give up the act."

She added, "Of course, they will keep George, the lion that got vicious yesterday in the act. George's getting out of line was pure accident. I don't remember how I felt, it all happened so fast."

She suffered deep lacerations on her left arm, the left breast, the right thigh and back. Her face was bruised.

Alex "Axle" Malashuk, a Sun photographer, was sent to the Hippodrome the next day to get a picture of George, who apparently was in no mood to sit for his picture.

George reached through the bars of the cage and slapped at Malashuk's arm, tearing his heavy overcoat.

"I says, `Baby, don't come out on me.' And then I got sense enough to move, but after I did, I just crouched there," Malashuk said. "I look down at my overcoat and there is a gash taken out of it. The coat is ripped for five inches at the elbow. And then I shakes some more. A half inch more and my arm would have been through the bar for that baby to play with."

He failed to get the picture his editors desired.

"Anyway, the shot's no good, my coat's no good, and my nerves ... I'll dream about that baby tonight," he said.

Three days later, Cote, who was 30, died of gangrene.

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