Friday, January 18, 2013

The True Story of the Doling Park Catfish: Prelude

Next week we will be taking a closer look at the facts regarding Springfield Missouri's infamous Doling Lake Monster Catfish attack of 1907, but first we will give a little background to the incident.

Giboney Cave today
The area surrounding Doling Lake first comes into the historical record when it was acquired in a homesteading grant by Alexander Giboney in 1852. Later, his son sold the land in 1882 to a successful businessman named James Marshall Doling, owner of the Doling Dry Goods store on Commercial Street. It was Doling that dammed the twisting stream flowing from Giboney Cave, forming the lake that bears his name. By the turn of the century, Doling had developed the land surrounding the cave and the lake into a popular amusement park. A common rumor of the time held that passages of Giboney cave led to caverns beneath the city square (a rumor that we will explore in a later article). Three Springfield entrepreneurs - W.H. Jezzard, Charles E. Brooks and former Springfield mayor Ben Meyer - formed the "Springfield Amusement Company" and purchased the park from Doling for $50,000.

Today, the lake is only a pond, but at that time it was many times larger and well stocked with catfish. Ben Meyer was aware of one particular fish in the lake, a gigantic catfish that had been sighted but had never been successfully caught. Like Captain Ahab in the book Moby Dick, "Benny" Meyer was determined to catch this fish, an obsession that led to his great battle with the beast in the Autumn of 1907.

NEXT WEEK:  We examine the original September 1, 1907 Springfield Leader account of Meyer's Battle with the Catfish!

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