Schools out of money, a leopard on the loose

Jeff Fox

From The Examiner during the week of Oct. 18-21, 1971: 

• “COMMUNITY SHOCKED: IMPACT OF CLOSING SCHOOLS FELT” (Monday, Oct. 18) – The full impact of the Independence Board of Education’s unprecedented action Saturday to close the schools and place teachers on leave as of Nov. 1 is gradually being felt in a shocked community. 

An ad from 50 years ago this week in The Examiner.

The board said the order would stand “until monies are available to provide instructional services.” 

The action, which came in a special meeting of the board at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, was not totally unexpected. 

At its bimonthly meeting last Tuesday, the board had announced the teachers’ fund was nearly $13,000 short of cover the $715,297 October payroll and that there were no funds for the November payroll.  

• “LEVY HIKE VOTE NOV. 9” (Saturday, Oct. 23) – The Independence Board of Education voted Friday to resubmit the operating levy increase of 95 cents to voters in a special election Tuesday, Nov. 9. 

The board said it would go ahead with its announced intention to close the schools after Friday, Oct. 29, because of its financial crisis. 

If patrons approve the levy on Nov. 9, the board said school could open the next day. 

“This would mean students would be out of school only seven days,” George Berkemeier, board president, said. 

From The Independence Examiner in late October 1921: 

Page one of the newspaper told much of what was going on 100 years ago this month – foul drinking water, the Independence Chamber of Commerce starting a weekly luncheon, the Giants beating the Yankees in the World Series – but one story made page one day after day.  

It was the escape of a black leopard from the Horne Zoo Arena Company on Spring Branch Road (Truman Road today) a few blocks east of the Square. 

On Monday afternoon, Oct. 10, readers saw the headline “LEOPARD ESCAPES AT ZOO" in the upper left corner of page one, generally the spot for the day’s biggest news. 

“The animal escaped by springing an inch iron bar, getting out of its cage and leaping through the window of the lion house,” the newspaper reported.  

Sherman Horne "phoned to people for miles around yesterday morning telling of the escape of the animal and asking that he be notified if it was sighted. He also offered a reward of $50 to the one who would locate the beast and tell him where it is. His instructions were to kill it if necessary for protection but that if this was not necessary, then to watch it and wait for his men, who are trained in the handling of animals, to arrive.” 

The next day’s headline was “BLACK LEOPARD UNCAPTURED” over a story that said, "Doctors Johnson and Kenney came down from Kansas City last night with eight dogs especially trained for the hunting of wild and fierce animals. At 2 o'clock this morning a party of eight Kansas City men along with Sherman Horne and an equal number of men from the zoo started out to try to pick up a trail of the animal. They stayed out until between 7 and 8 o'clock this morning but without success.” 

Meanwhile reports of sightings – some plausible, some less so – were coming in. “It is said that everyone who sees a black dog thinks that perhaps it is the leopard and calls up about it,” the paper reported.  

A teacher at the Columbian School reported a sighting. A woman on Walnut just off the Square “heard a queer scratching sound about her back door at 9 o'clock last night” and called police, who arrived with a whirring siren. They found a large black tom cat near a chicken coop. 

Emmanuel DeLong, on his farm about 4½ miles southeast of Independence, “saw a queer-looking animal about noon Monday. It was black and with a long body. He watched it run into a weed patch.” He called the zoo, and dogs were brought out. They followed the scent, but the trail quickly went cold.  

Then on Sunday, Oct. 16, things changed. 

Monday’s headline, “MAY HAVE LEOPARD DRIVE,” described a credible report of an encounter with the leopard by B.H. Perkins and his son at the Perkins place just outside town on the Lexington road. 

“Last night about 10 o'clock, just after Mr. Perkins had returned from church, he was sitting on his porch. He noticed a long low black animal with a long drooping tail in the yard, he says. He hissed suddenly and the animal arose in the air for one magnificent leap and was gone. Mr. Perkins does not believe that any animal that lives in this part of the country could have leaped as the one he saw last night.” 

“When Mr. Perkins scared the animal his son, Herbert Perkins, who is employed in the drygoods department of the Bundschu store in Independence, was coming up the lane from the main road. Herbert and the leopard (if it was a leopard) met face to face in the lane. The leopard leaped the fence and was gone again.” 

That was enough for B.H. Perkins. The paper quoted his plan in detail: 

"I believe for the safety of the children and even the grown people of the community about Independence we should hold one grand round-up for the purpose of taking the animal. Anyone can spare a day for the purpose, and to fail to do so might mean the loss of the life of some child.” 

“I would suggest that the people in and about Independence set a day and get together on the matter. The forces could be divided and captains appointed. ...  It is very probable that in this kind of a procedure the animal would be found.” 

“I think the territory to be covered should be that on this side of the Blue, as far up as Selsa. From there the searching should range off to the west and north and come in the vicinity of the stone arch bridge on the Fifteenth street road and north to the river.” 

Plans were coming together. The drive was set for Saturday, Oct. 22. Organizers hoped for 1,000 men. People across the country were starting to read this story, and the community was on edge. 

Next week: On the loose – but where, and for how long?