Lethbridge Herald, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, 18 December 1936.
One of the most unsettling tales in the dark corners of Fortean cryptozoology is that of Gef, the talking mongoose. Before such cryptozoological icons as Mothman and Bigfoot, the Dover Demon and the Lizardman, the Beast of Bray Road and even the venerable Monster Of Loch Ness, this little (we may assume that it was not that big) critter held sway and fascinated our ancestors. News about the mysterious creature also reached Canada as the image above demonstrates, and the United States, where several newspapers observed with a curiosity mixed with just that slight dose of jealousy that strange spell that the talking mongoose cast on the British Isles. After all, hadn’t they been publishing the most far fetched and weird tales in abundance for decades? We can, though, now reconstruct part of the spectrum of reporting in the American newspapers. So what did they write? The Indiana Evening Gazette, a newspaper published in Indiana, Pennsylvania, took its hat off in its 3 December 1936 edition and noted with a certain admiration for the outlandishness of the tale:
A Bow To Britain.
"Some very weird tales used to emanate from Winsted, Conn., but it appears that these things are done better in the British Isles. Frequently we hear that a camel-humped sea serpent has reared its ugly head in some Scottish loch or other. Now comes the story of the "talking mongoose of the Isle of Man," which caused such a stir that it was discussed even in Parliament. The remarkable Manx creature in question, which never seems to be around when reporters call, is said to speak English, Russian, Hebrew, and other tongues, and to sing Spanish songs. Those who had thought "kidding the public" was an exclusive Yankee trait will bow in admiration of this British effort - unless, to be sure, there is such a linguistic animal."
Indiana Evening Gazette, Indiana, Pennsylvania, 3 December 1936.
The reference to the weird tales in Winsted, Connecticut involves a series of sightings of a wild man, in one 1895 press account described as a gorilla, that terrorized that locality and its environs in the 19th century, but which was a hoax. As any other Fortean phenomenon, once mentioned, described and written about, it is as if a new door is opened to welcome similar reports or events, such as the account below demonstrates. This brief article was published in several American newspapers. Among them was The Times, a newspaper out of San Mateo, California. It introduced in its January 8th, 1937 edition an upcoming rival to Gef:
Oddities in The News
By United Press.
LONDON, Jan. 8 - UP - The "talking mongoose" has a rival in a singing mouse that lives in Devenport. Mrs. Annie Eddie reports he sings like a canary, but has evaded all her efforts to coax him into a trap from which he steals the cheese. "Mickey"- that is his name - really has a beautiful voice and sings us to sleep," she said.
The Times, San Mateo, California, 8 January 1937.
This brief item was published in several American newspapers, and the image below is one of many - albeit identical - accounts published on Gef and its competitor:
The Port Arthur News, Port Arthur, Texas, 10 January 1937.
In a column in the 10 September 1938 edition of The Gleaner, a newspaper published in Kingston, Jamaica, its writer wryly remarked, while delving into various other social affairs and human interest observations, a certain fascination that the topic held amongst the local populace. It also suggests a certain gullibility on the part of those taking the story at face value:
"...Then there was the English woman who just came out from home and was quite full of a story about a talking mongoose which had been discovered somewhere in Ireland. I asked what it was about and was informed that it talked about everything.
"What's it got to say about European crisis then?" I enquired. This quite normal question was ignored. "Scientists and all kind of clever people have visited the farm" I was told a trifle tartly. What did the mongoose say to them?"
"My question was likewise ignored but I was determind to be pleasant.
"We have all kinds of mongoose in Jamaica, but I am afraid do not talk much. Perhaps we could start a school".
"I was not invited to tea."
Even as late as the 1970’s (a time period that was in a certain way very favourable in letting Fortean items find their way into the mass media, even if most of the times serving as stoppers or light hearted distraction) a few capsule reconstructions of the strange case of Gef (note the different spelling) the talking mongoose appeared in newspaper print. One example is found in an article headed ‘The Unexplained. Mysterious creature moved in with family’. It was written by Allen Spraggett of the Toronto Sun Syndicate and published in the August 10, 1974 edition of The News out of Port Arthur, Texas. The same newspaper would publish the exact same article three years later, in its 12 November 1977 edition, only with a different header this time. As Spraggett wrote:
"There are some things so strange they don't fit into any known category - neither fish, fowl, human nor inhuman. One such thing was Jeff. The story of this creature is so bizarre that many people will find it impossible to credit. Nevertheless, it is abundantly documented. It was investigated by numerous reporters and psychical researchers, including Dr. Nandor Fodor, a noted psychoanalyst, R.S. Lambert of the British Broadcasting Corporation and famed ghosthunter Harry Price.
"The story began in the fall of 1931 on the Isle of Man. James T. Irving and his family caught glimpses of a strange animal skulking around their yard. It was described as about the site of a fullgrown rat with a flat snout and a small yellow face. Soon the Irvings became aware that the creature had moved into the house with them. They heard its furtive, rustling movements and found traces of half-eaten food the intruder had pilfered. Then - and this was a very queer development - the family heard the creature apparently mimicking them in a peculiar imitation of human speech. Over a period of months it acquired the ability to talk to an odd, high-pitched voice. Before long, swore the family, the thing was carrying on conversations with them. Yes, the story takes some believing thus far. But it gets worse. The animal, or whatever it was - it never showed itself but lurked in hiding places in the walls from which it conversed with the family - called itself Jeff. It addressed each member of the Irving family by his or her first name. Mr. Irving was "Jim," his wife "Maggie," and their teen-aged daughter "Voirrey."
"Jeff, according to the Irvings, did extraordinary things besides talking. They began finding freshly-killed rabbits on their kitchen floor - gifts from their mysterious guest. But the rabbits had been strangled, not killed by teeth as a mongoose or weasel (as some thought Jeff to be) would have done. More than 50 rabbits were left in this way. If the Irvings alone had vouched for Jeffs existence, one might say that it was all a practical joke - or that the whole family was mad. But others encountered Jeff too. Jeff hated strangers and when they came to the house to try to make his acquaintance, as many did, he often threw things at them - cockery, or on one occasion a large iron bolt.
"As time passed, Jeff branched out linguistically and was heard uttering phrases in what appeared to be German and Russian. R. S. Lambert, a British Broadcasting Corporation producer, spent a week with the Irvings. He went back to London and wrote a book about his experiences with the talking mongoose, or whatever it was When the book appeared, Lambert's superior publicly branded him either a liar or a madman. Lambert sued in court. The court believed his story and awarded him damages equal to $35,000 - a very substantial sum in those days.
"Other experienced investigators also probed the mystery of Jeff and came away persuaded that he or it represented an insoluble riddle.
"Once, on demand, Jeff left his footprints, or pawprints, in several pieces of soft wax and these were pronounced unidentifiable by a zoologist. In other words, they belonged to no known animal Jeff stayed with the Inrings four years. Then he vanished - as mysteriously as he had come. On one occasion, when James Irving demanded to know who or what Jeff really was. the creature, speaking from his usual habitat in the shadows, replied: "I know what I am but I won't tell you. I'm a freak. I've hands and feet. If you saw me you would be petrified."
"And then Jeff added these tantalizing words: "I'm a ghost in the form of a weasel..."