Since April Fools Day is coming up, I thought I would share a story of a time when someone tried to fool the entire Tuscarawas County community and beyond.
As Oscar R. Long (1888-1960) told it, he was out hunting racoons in the Stonecreek Valley in early February 1930 when he caught the most unusual animal he had ever seen. The creature’s nose and eyes were fox-like, its head and sharp teeth weasel-like, it’s body was long and bushy like a fox, and its tail was like a raccoon’s with alternating black and white stripes. Oscar brought the creature back to New Philadelphia where local meat merchant Clyde Eichel (1892-1982) agreed to put the caged animal on display in his front window.
Oscar was born in Uhrichsville, the son of Jason Long (1856-1920) and Sarah Davis (1857-aft. 1930), where he lived for the first thirty-or-so years of his life. He made his living as a general laborer and tree trimmer; work that took him all across the county. Oscar married Daisy Fisher (1873-1951) in 1914 and the couple rented a home in Uhrichsville. For some unknown reason in early 1930, possibly for Oscar’s work, Daisy was living in Uhrichsville and Oscar was lodging in New Philadelphia.
Once the animal went on public display and people were able to get a good look at the animal, local residents started doing research on what the animal could be. It was quickly determined that the “freak” was actually a ring-tail cat, or Bassariscus astutus, a relative of the racoon family. Once that was determined, there were numerous offers to buy the animal from Oscar Long including from Tuscora Park in New Philadelphia and the Canton Zoo. Oscar made it clear that he would not part with the animal for less than $50 (nearly $900 today).
Now that the mystery of what the creature was had been solved, the next question was how did it end up in the Stonecreek Valley of Tuscarawas County, Ohio? The ring-tail cat’s natural habitat is the rocky desert landscape of the American southwest, where it nests in hollowed out trees or rock formations. The fact that Oscar’s example was also very tame led some to believe that perhaps someone travelling from the southwest through Tuscarawas County had lost their pet ring-tail cat along the way.
There was only one person who knew how the ring-tail cat actually wound up in Tuscarawas County and that person was Oscar Long. After three days of intense interest in the animal by the public, press, and naturalists, and the constant barrage of questions about how he found it, Oscar came clean. He admitted that the he had purchased the animal from a fur-dealing friend of his in Illinois named Arthur G Ayers (1898-1945). Ayers had acquired the animal from an Uncle living in Mexico and traded it to Oscar Long for a shotgun. The gig was up and the mystery solved.
After Oscar admitted the hoax, the newspaper reported that the animal was a “two-year old male, and gentle as his master – and just as truthful.” It was reported that Oscar was considering opening a zoo, and for a while he continued to allow people to see the animal as long as they paid him “10 cents a peek.” Was the hoax the reason that Oscar and Daisy were living apart two months later when the census was taken? Perhaps, but the couple reconciled and lived together in Uhrichsville until Daisy’s death in 1951. Oscar remarried, but died only nine years after Daisy in June 1960. They are both buried in Union Cemetery in Uhrichsville. What happened to the “freak animal critter” is unknown.
© Noel B. Poirier, 2023.