The Great Lion Murder

Many years ago, an article appeared in the newspaper about the Great Lion Murder. It was confirmed by historian Larry Campbell (now nearly 100 years old), but neither of us could remember where we saw it. For nearly a decade, I have been searching for the original report. I contacted Paul Lion, descendant of the owners of Lion’s Furniture Store on the corner of Second and San Fernando Streets where the incident took place, but he was unaware of the story. Imagine my surprise when, at a recent Pioneer board meeting, the young lady sitting next to me was Alix Lion, who had a copy of the original story and sent it to me. Here is the original as it appeared in the San Jose Mercury on Wednesday, April 30, 1902:


A local furniture company recently secured from Chicago a fine paper-mache figure of a lion. The beast is represented standing with head erect, jaws open, and tail shifted sideways in the long graceful sweep of a Bengal terror. It is a very clever imitation in form, color and posture, and the owner of the store is quite proud of it—or rather he was until yesterday morning.

The figure was placed at the entrance to the store, and to prevent its being carried off was fastened by a chain to the wall. Thus secured, the owner never took the precaution to move it inside at night. Night before last there was trouble. There was a spirited lion-hunt on the streets of San Jose at an early hour yesterday morning and it wound up by the paper-mache animal being riddled with bullets.

A belated and unsteady wayfarer happened along. As he neared the entrance to the store where the lion stood on guard, he took a tack to the leeward, and came around with a lurch, bow towards the beast, under the full glare of an electric light. He stopped. His eyes bulged out. He backed away. Fear suddenly paralyzed his limbs and he collapsed in the gutter. In five minutes he mustered up his courage to rise and tiptoe across the street. Then he proceeded cautiously in a circle, imagining all the time that he was going away from the object of his dread. It wasn’t long till he was back near the store again, face to face with the lion. Then, for the first time, he spoke, though only in a whisper.

“Nuzzer one, b’gosh.”

Time number three he backed away and made the circle. This time it was five minutes before he ran into the lion again, and his surprise and terror was even greater than before. But this time he had evidently decided that it would be better to fight than run away. Unsteadily his weapon came into play. He wasn’t two feet from the brute’s head, otherwise some of the bullets would have missed it. As it was, six chunks of lead plunged through the figure, and the lion hunter continued his journey satisfied. Early wayfarers sent for the police, but the gun wielder had disappeared down a side street. Daylight, however, told the tale.”

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