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The beast of Milan

During the summer of 1792, rumors circulated of a beast
terrorizing the countryside of the Duchy of Milan. The Cavagna Collection
includes three public notices and a circular, published from July through
September, offering details on the hunt for this beast. It was originally described
as almost black and the size of a large dog, and by July 14 it had already killed
two children.

In July the Conferenza governativa, the governing body of
Austrian Lombardy, issued two notices offering prize money for anyone who
killed the beast, either as part of the officially organized hunt or
independently. The first such notice, from July 14, set the prize money at 50
zecchini, but the amount was increased to 150 zecchini ten days later on July
24 after the “agility and speed” of the beast had made it more difficult to
kill than expected. The copies of these two notices that are part of the
Cavagna Collection include manuscript notes expressing the writer’s displeasure
at the too-small amount of the prize. One note compares the prize negatively to
the equal or greater amount paid to various “charlatans” and “imposters,”
saying the conference values the lives of the king’s subjects and public safety
at “only 50 zecchini.” The tone of the second note is similar, mentioning the massacres
that the subjects are facing and the consequences on agriculture in the region.

The Cavagna Collection’s final document on the beast,
published 225 years ago today, details the capture and death of a wild animal
the day before on September 18 in one of the pits that had been set as traps throughout
the countryside. By this point there had been 10 deaths in the region, all
children, which were attributed to the beast. The report calls the dead animal
a “Lupo Orsino” and gives a detailed description of it: 54 pounds; reddish with
black stripes and a white belly and throat; four extra-long teeth; a large head,
muzzle, and neck with small ears; large, burning eyes; long, dense fur; a broad
chest with narrow hips; a short but hairy tail; wide feet with four toes and
short but strong claws. The circular implies that the matter is now settled and
over—but the author of another publication from 1792, Giornale circostanziato di quanto ha fatto la bestia feroce nell’Alto
Milanese dai primi di luglio dell’anno 1792 sino al giorno 18 settembre p. p.
,
hints at more uncertainty, claiming that witnesses said the teeth on the dead
animal did not match the bite marks from the beast’s victims, and that the
beast was seen in the countryside again on September 20. SH

[Collection of documents relating to a beast terrorizing the
countryside of the Duchy of Milan from July to September 1792]. [Milan], [1792].
Cavagna
30054no.10

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