Bored with staying home because of COVID-19, Mary Lou and I spend evenings recalling interesting things we’ve experienced. One of those is a story we heard one summer while visiting a longtime family friend in Tigerton, Wis.
Lillian had been a English teacher in Tigerton, and so we weren’t surprised that the story’s teller worked at the high school. And off we went.
We went around to the back, down to the basement, and up to the door labelled "Custodian," where we met Sally. After introductions and pleasant chit-chat, Lillian asked her friend to tell us about the high school mascot — the Tigerton Tiger. We suspected that was a story she wanted us to hear, and Sally confirmed this as she began talking.
It began after dark one evening when she heard a knock on the school’s receiving room door and opened it to find a man in a dark suit, white shirt and tie. The man showed his credentials, introduced himself as a Customs and Immigration agent, and asked if he might come in and chat for a moment. “It seems,” he said, “I have a problem you might be able to help me solve.”
A little overwhelmed by the after-dark presence of a federal agent, but being a polite midwesterner, she invited the stranger in.
“Ma'am,” the man began, “I’m driving home from the airport in Minneapolis, entered Tigerton, and suspected the high school mascot was a tiger. So I drove right over. I hope I’m not disrupting your evening.”
“No. Of course not,” Sally said, followed by, “But I still don’t understand why you’re here.”
The agent smiled and told her the following story.
“Ma'am,” he began, “I’d been assigned to intercept a man at the Minneapolis airport who was trying to smuggle a tiger into the U.S. The man had been hunting in India, bagged a tiger, had it mounted, and was attempting to bring it in illegally. And I was sent to confiscate it.”
Though the agent didn’t explain what happened to the miscreant, he did say the contraband was in the back of his truck.
“My problem is that if I bring it back to the office, it will wind up in storage somewhere and have to be discarded at some later date.”
“Unless, Ma'am,” he concluded, “the Tigerton High School desires it.”
Sally thought the school probably would, but that the principal would need to approve that. And so she called the principal at home, and told him what was happening. He thought that might be a good idea, but he’d like to see the tiger and talk a bit with the customs agent. He also speculated that he might need to discuss things with the superintendent of schools and the school board.
The agent was pleased that the tiger might be adopted into a forever home, but he still had a problem.
“What, Ma'am,” he asked, “should I do with the tiger while the decision gets made? I don’t think Customs and Immigration would be pleased if I waited around. And I know my wife wouldn’t be pleased, either.”
Sally didn’t tell us how that problem was resolved. But she did ask us if we’d like to see the Tigerton Tiger. We did.
So we went to the first floor entrance opposite the Assembly Hall, and found a display case longer than I am tall containing a mounted tiger, in a walking pose, with its mouth open suggesting it was stuffed in mid-growl. It was pretty impressive.
It turns out there is a bit more to the story. The tiger was originally in a crate, and the principal decided that it needed a display case since its fur would otherwise disappear from the animal’s being petted by the students. So Sally’s husband made a beautifully finished glass case which houses the Tigerton Tiger to this day. You can see it when you next visit. Just go around to the custodian’s entrance, knock, and tell them Lillian sent you.
Hank Slotnick is a retired UND professor who, with his wife, winters in Pima, Ariz., and summers in Debs.