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I heard that a Quincy mayor was once bitten by a lion. Is this true?

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 17, 2017 9:45 am Updated: Mar. 17, 2017 9:52 am

I heard that a Quincy mayor was once bitten by a lion. Is this true, and was he injured?

The idea that a Quincy mayor was bitten by a lion likely makes many people smile (It even drew a chuckle from this reporter), but obviously a lion bite could be quite serious and possibly fatal.

In this case, no one was seriously injured. Mayor Wes Olson was bitten by the female cub -- reports vary on whether the cub was seven or eight months old -- while posing for a picture.

Aurelia was brought to Quincy on Oct. 3, 1964, when the Quincy Evening Lions club was presented its international charter during a banquet.

An Oct. 5, 1964, article in The Herald-Whig reports "most Quincyans who saw Aurelia, the 80-pound mascot, were taken with the friendly animal, and several women were brave enough to hug it. A majority were content to merely pet the furry creature; but even that sort of familiarity dwindled after Aurelia snarled and attempted have a bite of Mayor Wes Olson's hand."

An Oct. 8, 1964, article in the Chicago Tribune notes Olson, who served as mayor from 1961 to 1969, tried to get the lion cub to turn around for the camera. However, the lion growled and bit Olson's hand.

"It was just a nip," Olson told the Chicago Tribune. He noted the scratch-like marks were healing.

The lion was brought to Quincy by John Keehan and Robert Gore of Chicago, who owned a karate school in Chicago. They furnished the lion after reading an ad in a Chicago newspaper. It's unknown how they obtained the lion cub.

A well-known figure in the karate world, Keehan, who legally changed his name to Juan Raphael Dante or "Count Dante" in 1967, was later involved in the Chicago "dojo wars." In one 1970 incident, according to the Chicago Reader, Keehan sought to settle a beef with a member of another dojo, and one of his friends was killed in a fight between the groups.

According to The Herald-Whig, Keehan and Gore brought the lion cub to Quincy with the intent to sell her, as she started growing at an alarming rate, and they had no facilities in which to keep the lion, which ultimately can weigh up to 400 pounds.

At the end of the night, the cub was bought by Quincy Buick dealership Robert Geise, who told The Herald-Whig that he was having second thought on his decision to become a "zoo keeper."

He hoped to have a decision on his next move for Aurelia after she was released from a 10-day quarantine with a Quincy veterinarian to check for rabies.

Floyd Webb, a Chicago-based filmmaker working on a documentary about Keehan, wrote that the dealership used to drive Aurelia around the city in a Buick Opel station wagon. She was eventually sold to another Buick dealership in St. Louis, and she lived out her days in a Texas zoo.

A special thanks to Herald-Whig copy editor Cody Bozarth who happened to come across information for this answer.

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