Arizona March 18, 2017
Most People Don’t Know A Lion Was Once Lost In Arizona’s Rim Country
Yes, you read that title correctly! Although the lion didn’t quite get the chance to saunter through the woods in search of some tasty deer, it was lost for several days following a plane crash.
The lion in question: Jackie, the mascot of MGM Studios and the same lion you see and hear at the beginning of films like
The Wizard of Oz.
Jackie was well-trained and could roar on cue. He and all the other lions featured in MGM’s production logo were nicknamed "Leo" by the studio.
In 1927, the studio scheduled a publicity tour to promote their film productions. One of those included sending Jackie on a flight across the country in a modified airplane.
The studio purchased and modified a Ryan Brougham airplane, outfitting it with a cage, water tanks, and extra fuel tanks.
In September 1927, the lion’s transcontinental flight was scheduled to transport him and the pilot, Martin Jenson, from San Diego to New York. However, that flight only lasted five hours.
Flying over the wilderness near the Mogollon Rim, Jenson
reportedly wasn’t able to gain the elevation required the fly over the Rim with the plane's extra weight. It crashed east of Payson, in an area near the Bear Flat campground.
A bit dazed and disoriented, both the pilot and lion survived but were stranded in a place they had never been before. Leaving some sandwiches, milk, and water, Jenson left Jackie in the caged plane in search of help.
Although he apparently wasn’t far from nearby ranches, the pilot wandered the wilderness for several days in search of a town and telephone.
Once he contacted the studios, Jenson enlisted the help of some local cowboys to track down the plane and pick up the hungry lion. According to
one source, the locals thought roping the lion was an easier feat than rustling up some wild cows!
From there, Jackie and his pilot drove through Payson on a brief celebrity tour—I imagine it was the first time anyone in the area had seen a live lion—before heading back to California.
This photo shows the planes remains as of the 1990s still sitting where it crash landed, though must rustier and more decrepit than it appeared in 1927.
That was pretty crazy, huh? What are some other strange occurrences you’ve heard that have happened in Arizona?
If you want to read about strange places you can visit around the state, be sure to read
The 13 Strangest Things To Ever Be Found In The Arizona Desert. Some of these spots are pretty weird!