Monday, February 3, 2014

The Saga of Peaches the Mountain Lion

Special Collections is ABC Library’s local history library. A favorite research tool is a collection of City Clerk and City Manager Scrapbooks, a treasure trove of information about Albuquerque politics and projects. I also work daily with NewspaperARCHIVE, a searchable full-text database of New Mexico newspapers that includes the Albuquerque Journal from 1882 to 1977 and the Albuquerque Tribune from 1951 to 1977. Thoroughly researching a question can mean going back and forth between the scrapbooks and the database. For instance, I met Peaches the Mountain Lion in volume twelve of the 1937 City Clerk Scrapbooks, but I needed NewspaperARCHIVE to round out his story.

The scrapbooks contain newspaper clippings that the City Clerk or Manager identified as pertaining to city business. Arrest records, articles about visiting dignitaries, and updates on public works projects fill eighty seven volumes. Locating specific information requires an approximate date, and the scrapbooks have to be used in the library.  

Customers can use their library card and pin number to connect to NewspaperARCHIVE from any computer with an Internet connection. NewspaperARCHIVE uses optical character recognition to match search terms to items in the newspapers. It’s helpful to use more than one search term and to limit searches by date and location. NewspaperARCHIVE doesn’t put search terms in context: a search on “peaches” brings up grocery store ads, recipes, articles about fruit, and a few articles about the misadventures of an Albuquerque mountain lion.  

It’s impossible to use the scrapbooks without stopping to scan articles unrelated to the question I’m supposed to be researching. Parking meters were not as interesting as Peaches. His narrative arc is Escape; Recapture; Rejection; Re-escape; Re-recapture; Exploitation by Stunt Pilot. Here’s what I found under the headlines:

“Albuquerque Man to Hunt Mountain Lion Under His House Sometime Today”: in which Mr. Valentine will endeavor to get his pet mountain lion cub, Peaches, out from under the porch at the Valentine family home. [Albuquerque Journal, February 28, 1937]

“’Peaches’ Falls Victim to Mrs. Valentine’s Safari”: in which Mrs. Valentine uses liver to lure Peaches into a crate and then blocks him in with an ironing board. [Albuquerque Tribune, March 1, 1937]

“Horses Scarce and Meat is High So Pet Mountain Lion Gets Go By”: in which City Manager Charles E. Wells refuses to accept Peaches for the city zoo because feeding the four mountain lions the zoo already owns is too expensive. [Albuquerque Tribune, March 2, 1937]

“Cub Lion Makes a Break; Now at Large in the City” and “Peaches Dangerous at Large, Expert Declares”: in which Peaches escapes a second time. Parents are warned to keep their children indoors while the police department hunts for him. [Albuquerque Journal and Albuquerque Tribune, respectively, March 3, 1937]

The article that tells of Peaches’s re-recapture (Mrs. Valentine wins again) isn’t included in the scrapbooks, but I found it in NewspaperARCHIVE: “Runaway Lion is Recaptured: Puma Submits Second Time to Woman’s Wiles.” [Albuquerque Journal, March 5, 1937]

Knowing Peaches had been recaptured filled a gap in the scrapbook narrative, which continues with: “City Will Protect Peaches the Lion”, “Flyer to Dive with ‘Peaches’ Despite Ban” and  “To Crash or Not to Crash is ‘Peaches’ New Problem.” These articles reveal that Peaches has been sold to a stunt pilot, “Reckless Rex” Murphy. Murphy proposes to have Peaches accompany him on a stunt flight that entails crashing the plane, the pilot, and the mountain lion into a frame house for the edification of members of the Carlisle post of the American Legion. Consternation and protests ensue. [Albuquerque Tribune, March 9, 1937; Albuquerque Journal, March 11 and 12, 1937]

At this point, Peaches fades from the scrapbook pages. Another search of NewspaperARCHIVE turns up “Peaches Going to Court: Seeks Right to Fly”: in which the stunt pilot promises to seek an injunction allowing him to crash his lion in his plane without interference from the Sheriff. [Albuquerque Journal, March 21, 1937]

I infer that the flight never happened, because I know that it would have made headlines. If it had made headlines, I would have found them. I have the tools.

No comments: