Douglas Herrick and his brother Ralph were out hunting one day in the early 1930s, and they were lucky enough to catch a rabbit. They went home and tossed the dead rabbit on their hobby desk, where it came to rest right next to a pair of antelope horns.
“Hey, I've got a swell idea!” Douglas might have said. “Lets mount the rabbit just like that, horns and all!”
“Say, that sounds just jake!” Ralph probably agreed. “maybe Old Man Ball down't the hotel will give us some scratch for it. Wouldn't that be nifty?”
So using all the skills they had learned from their taxidermy correspondence course, they did just that. They cut the rabbit's head off, sewed the horns to the top, and mounted it onto a plaque.
Sure enough Old Man Ball (Roy to his friends) gave them ten dollars for the very first jackalope. He hung it in the great room of the Bonte Hotel where guests and staff alike admired it.
Doug and Ralph were overjoyed, ten 1930s greenbacks translates to about 125 bucks today. “This is the cat's pajamas!” you might have heard them exclaim if you listened outside their door.
Douglas and Ralph became heroes in their tiny hometown – a hometown which was also, confusingly, named Douglas. The Douglas city council set to work making the town jackalope friendly by erecting a tasteful eight foot statue of their new mascot. They put up a sign at the city line which read:
Welcome to Douglas
Watch out for the Jackalope!
But the city fathers didn't stop there. They carved a 13 foot monument into a nearby mountain. They painted jackalopes on almost every piece of city property, from firetrucks to park benches. They began issuing jackalope hunting licenses.
Now, in today's world if you have useless but entertaining idea like, say, a pet rock or an origami boulder, you sell it until you can't fulfill orders yourself, then license it to a huge company for a few million bucks and retire in style, but this was the 1930s and the Herrick boys weren't savvy in the business of business. Even the town of Douglas didn't think to trademark their beloved icon. Word spread and soon states such as Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico were selling jackalope crap, ahem, souvenirs. History marched on...
Wyoming trademarked the jackalope in 1965. In 1977 the first jackalope ever made was stolen (GASP!) from its hallowed place of honor in the Bonte Hotel. 1985 saw the governor of Wyoming declare the state as “The Official Stomping Ground” of the beast. At that same ceremony he presented a specially mounted specimen to Ronald Reagan.
So my friends, that is the story behind the legend of the jackalope. What way better than to close out this amazing tale than with an epilogue beginning with the sensational headline:
JACKALOPES ARE REAL!!!!!
Yes you heard me correctly, and I am not making this up. There was always a bit of amazement at the fact that rabbits with horns have showed up in art and literature regularly as early as 1550.
Turns out there is a disease in bunnies called Shope papillomavirus. It causes bone-like tumors to grow from the heads of rabbits – usually, but not always, on top of the head. It is yucky and the rabbits don't like it much. Nearly interestingly, it was identified by a scientist named Shope within a few short years of the Herrick boys making the very first jackalope. Shope and jackalope rhyme, but Dr. Shope's first name was Dick not Jack; that woulda been cool if it were Jack.
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http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/obituaries/134622102_herrickobit26.html – Obituary of Douglas Herrick who died January 3, 2003 at the age of 82
http://ww2.lafayette.edu/~hollidac/jackalope.html- More info on horned rabbits in Europe and the USA
http://ww2.lafayette.edu/~hollidac/jacksforreal.html – pictures of rabbits with Shope papillomavirs ew
http://www.straightdope.com/columns/000811.html – Straight Dope August 11, 2000 yay Cecil!