Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Naughty Elephant Sent to the Gallows

This is a new feature we'll try. The Odd History Lesson.

They will all be true. No tellin' tales out of school. I swear. We'll see how they go.

In 1916, an elephant named Mary was hanged for her bad behavior. The only time we know of this kind of madness occurring.

Mary was a performer for the Sparks World Famous Shows Circus. The circus hired an inexperienced assistant elephant trainer named Red Eldridge. Red had no idea what he was doing. Before a performance in Tennessee, Red was taking Mary to a local watering hole for some refreshment, Mary stopped to nibble on a watermelon rind she spotted on the ground. Red stuck a hook behind the ear of the pachyderm. Mary reacted to the mistreatment, grabbing Red with her trunk, tossing him into a concession stand and stepping on the trainer's head. Of course killing the man.

Onlookers turned into a villagers-in-Frankenstein-like mob. Shouts of "kill the elephant" rang out. A local blacksmith fired a dozen shots or so from a rifle. To little effect.

Two days later, circus owner Charlie Sparks bowed to local pressure and decided to kill Mary in public. A crowd of 2,500 - that included many children - gathered to watch the execution. A chain was put around Mary's neck. The chain was connected to a railcar-mounted industrial crane. The first attempt to hang Mary resulted in a broken chain. Mary crashed to Earth, breaking her hips. Children screamed and ran away in terror.

The second attempt at a hanging killed the poor elephant. She was buried beside the Tennessee railroad tracks.

There has been other elephant executions, but not by hanging from the gallows. Topsy the elephant killed three men in 1903 and was electrocuted. In fact, Thomas Edison filmed the event. You can see the footage here. It may be disturbing to some. Fair warning.

So we don't end on a total bummer, here's some happy elephant footage. An Asian elephant painting a self-portrait. The footage is real.

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