MILWAUKEE (WITI)-- In Milwaukee, we love our animals. Hank the dog has taken the city by storm this year. Before Hank, there was Samson the Gorilla. But there's one animal who may be the most famous animal to captivate the fascination of Milwaukee -- an animal whose story is fascinating not only because of how he got here, but where he lived once he arrived.
In 1928, the director of the Milwaukee Public Museum, Dr. Samuel Barret was looking to expand the institution's African collection. At the time, the museum shared space with the Milwaukee Public Library. Considering there were few ways to acquire African specimens, Dr. Barret took off to distant lands.
Traveling through East Africa, the 1928-1929 Cudahy-Masse Expedition traveled the continent looking for items to bring back home.
"They brought back 300 animals, over 1,000 plants and cultural artifacts," local librarian Daniel Lee said.
Lee has studied the trip, and their most prized possession.
"They brought back one live lion. They named him Simba which is Swahili for lion," Lee said.
Simba came back back to Milwaukee with the explorers, and was immediately put on display inside what is now the Milwaukee Public Library.
"He wasn`t used to thousands of people visiting the museum, and several dozen people grabbed his head. They grabbed his paws. They yanked on his tail. And you know how cats can be. They can be easily rattled," Lee said.
Simba needed a new home, and quick. Barret made sure to keep his prized possession close. A lion pen was built on the building's roof. While it appeared to be a suitable home for a lion, Simba hated it.
"I guess he didn`t care to spend a lot of time here. He`d rather be with the humans that he had come to know," librarian Dawn Lauber said.
"As soon as the door opened, he would just race down the stairs to the taxidermy studio where his permanent home was on the fourth floor," Lee said.
To this day, the library's fourth floor hasn't changed much. It is now used for extra storage space. 85 years ago, the long hallway that now houses documents was an exercise room for a large cat.
"Museum staff would roll bowling balls up and down the long hallway, and he would just chase after it," Lee said.
Staff would later learn, bowling balls do not make for healthy cats. Simba damaged his teeth, and was brought to the Washington Park Zoo for emergency treatment. Those teeth bothered Simba for the rest of his life. Simba stayed at the Washington Park Zoo until his death in 1943 -- but that's not where his story ends.
"He had such a loyal following. He was very important to bring back here," Wendy Christensen said.
Christensen is the taxidermist at the Milwaukee Public Museum.
The cat that loved to be with a taxidermist, still gets to hang out with one!
Simba is on permanent display in the Africa exhibit, on the third floor of the Milwaukee Public Museum. Just don't throw him a bowling ball!
The cat who once lived in the library has proven sometimes the best stories aren't found in books.
If you want to visit Simba, you can see him any time at the Milwaukee Public Museum.
If you would like to learn more about him, a local librarian would be happy to direct you the many articles and books that have been written about him.
The fourth floor if the library is off limits to guests, but can be viewed each year during Doors Open Milwaukee, which is slated for September of 2015.
CLICK HERE for more on Simba -- the lion at the library.