Grant Park Nightmare
by Lorna Gentry
"Wild Panther Loose in Park" read the large headline in the September 14, 1898 Atlanta Constitution newspaper. For much of its early life, Grant Park had a peculiar lore of wild animals being loose in the park. Few stories captured the city's imagination as vividly as did the wildcat of Grant Park. The animal twice attacked children and panicked Atlanta for months, until it was finally killed during an attack five days after Christmas.
A police officer on bike patrol in the park in mid-September 1898 first reported the big cat sighting. he told the newpaper that the "largest wildcat" he had ever seen jumped from a tree onto a little boy, whose life was saved by an armed young man nearby. The man shot at the cat, causing it to run away. A week later the cat jumped another boy and again was fired upon, but escaped. For months afterward visitors to the park reported seeing a panther, many calling it a "cat of huge proportions."
The legend of the mysterious big cat came to an end on Dec. 30, 1898 when Grant Park residents Louis Hardy and his wife, who lived on Woodward Avenue, took a carriage ride through the park accompanied by their greyhound. The cat jumped from a tree onto the dog's back and the two fought to the cat's death. Imagine Atlanta's surprise when the "panther" turned out to be a large housecat, described in the newspaper as being "of unusual size and coloring, striped like a raccoon and weighing 12-14 pounds."