Apr 012008

This List of Historical Elephants has turned out to be entertaining (as well as problematic).

Some interesting tidbits:

Jumbo, probably the most famous elephant that most people know of, is actually how the word “jumbo” entered our lexicon, it originally meant either “hello” or “chief”. He was supposed to be 13 feet tall when he died. That is huge. Do you know how he died? He was crushed by a locomotive. Many metallic objects were found in the elephant’s stomach, including pennies, nickels, dimes, keys, and rivets.

“Jumbo’s skeleton was donated to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, New York, USA. The elephant’s heart was sold to Cornell University. Jumbo’s hide was stuffed by William J. Critchley and Carl Akeley, both of Ward’s Natural Science, and the mounted specimen traveled with Barnum’s circus for a number of years. In 1889, Barnum donated the stuffed Jumbo to Tufts University, where it was displayed until destroyed by a fire in 1975, coincidentally a fate that befell many of Barnum’s exhibits during his own lifetime. The great elephant’s ashes are kept in a 14-ounce Peter Pan Crunchy Peanut Butter jar in the office of the Tufts athletic director.”

Batyr was a talking elephant. Not much more can be said about the subject except that it’s astonishing, read up.

Tusko, a common name, refers to two famous elephant. The first was touted to be the Meanest Elephant, weight a ton more than Jumbo (though a bit shorter) and had tusks that were 7 feet long. Holy crap.

Another Tusko was given a crapload of LSD. He collapsed within 5 minutes and died within another hour forty.

An elephant could probably win a fight with a rhino. However, elephants generally haven’t done that well against organized modern humans.

The final two famous elephants suffered a worse fate: execution. Topsy was electrocuted after she killed three people in three years (although there may have been abuse involved and elephants can be vindictive). Thomas Edison used AC current to both discredit rival Tesla and to electrocute the animal which 1,500 people witnessed. Edison even captured the event on film and released it under the name of Electrocuting an Elephant (youtube). You can see the elephant being brought in and bound to chains. 6,600 volts and a few seconds later, it collapses.

Mary was a similar case and her story is perhaps best told by Wiki itself:

Topsy the Hanged Elephant

Mary was a five ton Asian elephant who performed in the Sparks World Famous Shows circus.

On September 11, 1916 a hotel worker named Red Eldridge was hired as an assistant elephant trainer by the circus. On the evening of September 12 he was killed by Mary in Kingsport, Tennessee while taking her to a nearby pond to splash and drink. There are several accounts of his death but the most widely accepted version is that he prodded her behind the ear with a hook after she reached down to nibble on a watermelon rind. She went into a rage, snatched Eldridge with her trunk, threw him against a drink stand and deliberately stepped on his head, crushing it.

The details of the aftermath are confused in a maze of sensationalist newspaper stories and folklore. Most accounts indicate that she calmed down afterward and didn’t charge the onlookers, who began chanting, “Kill the elephant!” Apparently within minutes, a local blacksmith tried to kill Mary, firing more than two dozen rounds with little effect. Newspapers published claims that Murderous Mary had killed several workers in the past and noted that she was larger than the world famous Jumbo the elephant. Meanwhile, the leaders of several nearby towns threatened not to allow the circus to visit if Mary was included. The circus owner, Charlie Sparks, reluctantly decided that the only way to quickly resolve the potentially ruinous situation was to kill the elephant in public. On the following day, a foggy and rainy September 13, 1916, she was transported by rail to Erwin, Tennessee where a crowd of over 2,500 people (including most of the town’s children) assembled in the Clinchfield railroad yard.

The elephant was hanged by the neck from a railcar-mounted industrial crane. The first attempt resulted in a snapped chain, causing Mary to fall and break her hip as dozens of children fled in terror. The severely wounded elephant died during a second attempt and was buried beside the tracks.

Sad indeed.

I should write for Damn Interesting.

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