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The lions that lived in Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids’ historic landmark Brucemore mansion once was home to lions.

The affluent Hall family housed lions on the Brucemore property between 1936 and 1951. Curator of Brucemore’s museum collections Jessica Peel-Austin said Howard Hall was fascinated with Hollywood, circuses and exotic animals.

Hall got his first lion, Leo, from the World Jungle Compound, home to the famous MGM lion, Jackie. Leo did not live long, although historians are unclear why he died. Peel-Austin said when people think of the Brucemore lion, they are remembering the second one — Leo II — who lived for about 13 years. A third Leo came to the estate in 1951 but was unhealthy like Leo I and died shortly after.

Peel-Austin said while they were small, the lion cubs lived in the mansion. After that, the carriage house area became their home base. Howard Hall and servant Wesley Melsha were primary caregivers for the lions. The lions were fed raw meat, mostly chicken.

“We do know that Howard spent a lot of time with the circus trainers and with the animal actor trainers and learned a lot of the training techniques that he needed to use to care for his own lions.”

The museum recently discovered that an animal pen was kept off of the formal garden, which let the Halls easily interact with the lions. This discovery came while working on restoring the estate’s landscape after the 2020 derecho.