West Virginia History February 03, 2021
by Cristy Few People Know The Story Of The Pet Lion That Freely Roamed The Streets Of Alderson, West Virginia In 1890
Are you a pet lover? Many West Virginians are, and our pets range from dogs and cats to farm animals, reptiles, and more. But perhaps the most unusual pet to ever make a home in West Virginia was a lion named French.
Where would you go to see a lion? A zoo? An African Safari?
A hundred years ago, you could have headed over the river and through the woods to Alderson, West Virginia.
Yes, you read that right: Alderson, West Virginia. Now known for its proximity to the Greenbrier River, its quaint depot, and its historic downtown area, from 1890 to 1894, Alderson was home to one giant pet that freely roamed the streets: a lion named French.
In a bygone era, French's Railroad Show was passing through Alderson when one of its lionesses gave birth to five cubs. Three died at birth, but the circus disposed of the other two by giving them to a local Alderson resident, Mrs. Susan Beabout.
Although only one of the two remaining cubs survived, it became a beloved fixture in the Alderson community. It is said that the children of the town loved to play with this young lion, and the young lion loved to play with them and with Mrs. Beabout's cat.
The lion, who was named for the circus master, was allowed to freely roam the streets, which meant that you never knew when you might encounter him. That was fine for locals heading to and from the Alderson Store, who knew and loved this oversized pet....
...but it was not fine for an unfortunate traveling salesman, who, when he found himself face to face with a real lion who had taken a keen interest in sniffing his person, took off running and jumped right into the Greenbrier River. Once on the other side, he ran until he reached a local doctor's house, where he fainted from fear.
After that incident, the town council passed a lion leash law prohibiting French from freely roaming the streets. It is said that the law is still on the books in Alderson these many years later, despite the fact that no lion has been seen there for nearly 130 years.
Eventually, the Alderson lion was sold to the National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., where he was beloved by caretakers and visitors alike for many years.
What do you think you would have done in that traveling salesman’s shoes? Did you know the story of the Alderson Lion? As unusual as some of the pets you may have had are… we doubt they can quite hold a candle to French!
Oh, and about the Alderson Store we mentioned earlier…did you know it’s
the oldest department store in the state?
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Address: Alderson, WV 24910, USA