CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In Christmas of 1955, at least six people reported seeing a beige mountain lion near Marlinton, according to an article by Calvin Price, who was then the editor of The Pocahontas Times.
Two children are kneeling beside the Christmas tree, holding their breath as they explore their newly wrapped presents. The smallest one, a boy, crawls beneath the tree. A bell falls from one of the branches, alerting their mother, who looks up from the crackling fire. She asks the children if it's still snowing.
She remembers the first Christmas in this home, newly married, before electricity, just the glow of a fire, small, like this one. Smoke rises into the night, unusually bright beneath the waxing moon, the endless blankets of snow.
The children are looking out the window now, watching a shape emerge on the snow-covered lawn. A panther is creeping there at the edge of the farm. He steps into the light of the moon. He stretches his neck toward their house, to peer into the frozen window. Looking out the window at the terrifying creature, the children feel frozen too.
The panther is a dusty beige color, with white flecks of long whiskers on his face. Two dark, yellow eyes open wide, staring back at the faces of the children, suspended, unwavering. The little boy cries out. Their mother stands and sees the panther, catches her breath in fright. In defiance, fear, and awe, she locks eyes with the great cat and stares. She calls for her husband, and her voice against the glass startles the panther, who tears through soft, fresh snow and disappears in a flash.
That Christmas, at least three other people caught sight of a panther outside their homes near Marlinton. And they all called Calvin Price, editor of the Times from 1905 to 1957, and one of the last faithful believers in the great Pocahontas Panther.
For decades, Price wrote dozens of articles about these sightings. He claimed to have seen a live panther himself once, when he was alone in the woods. He said in one interview that he whistled at it, and it growled and took off through the trees.
Officially, the last verified mountain lion killed in West Virginia was back in 1887, in Pocahontas County. But this didn't change the fact that hundreds of people continued to report, and still report, sightings of panthers throughout the Allegheny Mountains.