Hanging inauspiciously in a dark corner of the American Museum of Natural History is a mysterious figure covered from head to toe in the coat of a leopard. Although easy to miss, the dark mannequin is actually sporting the dress of the Leopard Society, a 19th-century gang of sorts that clawed unsuspecting travelers and fed upon their flesh.
Hoping it would make them stronger, the Leopard Society roamed Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Côte d’Ivoire, preying upon strangers and distributing the meat from their bodies among their tribe. Society members would wear the skins of leopards and fashioned weapons from their claws and teeth.
Legends of the Society grew much larger than the real impact of its members after a report in the Royal Journal of Africa, and depictions of the warriors in a Tarzan novel. Despite rumors that the society was still active throughout the 1980s, the last remaining trace of the Leopard Society hangs quietly above ignorant museum-goers in New York City.
The garb can be found in the hall of African Peoples, directly above an exhibit labeled “Science and Faith”
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Only in Queens: Tasting Our Way Through New York’s Most Diverse Borough
Manhattan may have name-brand recognition and Brooklyn a certain cachet, but Queens is the city’s largest and most diverse borough. Join us, October 4-7, to dig into Queens’ rich neighborhood life.