Ten years ago this month, news media descended upon the small town of Danville, New Hampshire, population 3500, in the southeastern portion of the state midway between Manchester and the seacoast. They came to cover the search for a mysterious giant monkey that had been spotted prowling the forests and stealing food from terrified residents. The creature’s origins were a mystery. Nobody had caught its image on camera. The elusive monkey foiled all attempts to capture it.
It was a perfect story for a time when the news media, and television news in particular, had plunged fully into a careless, anything-for-eyeballs menu of car chases, foiled robberies, trapped babies – anything caught on video or offering a daily-vigil story arc.
As the coverage peaked, Boston TV reporters were filing daily live reports from the forest’s edge. Wire services were taking it national. And the ultimate apex in media confirmation arrived: a Today Show production crew put together a story on the Danville monkey.
The morning that piece was to air was September 11, 2001. The Danville animal-control officer, Denise Laratonda watched the Twin Towers footage in the monitor as she waited, made up and wearing her microphone, for the interview that never happened.
The giant monkey of Danville, New Hampshire was my symbol, back then, of the fin-de-siecle nadir in media fluffery, thankfully obsolesced in one grim morning. News reporting was important again, to be taken seriously. The media, and its audience, were reminded that journalism is too precious to waste on simian nonsense.
But over time, I began to think differently about the Danville monkey. Yes, it was a simple story, but a real one. News since 9/11 has meant Iraq War, Katrina, financial collapse, oil spill… incomprehensibly huge, horrible stories of conflict and ruin.
Sometimes I want to go back to the little oddities and challenges that a community goes through, via their news media.
I want to know what happened to the Danville monkey.
It was not so giant, after all. Reports of an eight feet monster turned out to be based on an erroneous description from Danville Fire Chief David Kimball; in reality, witnesses and experts agreed that it was a Humboldt woolly monkey, between two and three feet tall.
Great efforts were put forth to capture the monkey. Cameras were put in place. Traps were set, initially with bananas, and later with Reese’s peanut butter cups, marshmallows dipped in molasses, and a bag of popcorn.
White’s career at WHOB did not last the winter – he left the station after getting caught posting photographs of himself on the Web, sans gorilla suit or any other clothing.