Elephants were Popular at turn of Century

Jadon Gibson

There is something about elephants, Elephantidae Proboscidea, that has fascinated humans since they were first brought to this country.

Many boys have earned free passes to the circus by fetching water for the elephants. The elephant’s large thirst made it a hard job but the boys didn’t mind.

An expression, “to see the elephant”, evolved around the turn of the century. It meant to see and know the world or to know all there was to know of life.

Circuses have been a source of amusement and entertainment in the mountains for many years.

In the late summer of 1916, the Sparks Brother’s World -Famous Circus was making appearances in several eastern Kentucky, western Tennessee and southwestern Virginia cities. The carnival traveled aboard 20 railroad cars and fliers proclaimed one of the animals, 30-year old ‘Big Mary’, as not only the world’s largest elephant but also as the world’s largest land animal.

The gigantic Mary led hundreds of parades through the main streets of America’s cities and towns. She was a overgrown freak of nature that endeared thousands of children to her and grownups as well.

“Big Mary” was so huge that her bulk collapsed the scales when attempts were made to weigh her. Industrial heavy-duty scales eventually weighted her in at a svelte 10,470 pounds, equivalent to five tons plus part of another.

She stood three inches taller than ‘Jumbo’, her predecessor as the largest land animal in the world. Jumbo added an adjective, his name, to the English language. The famous pachyderm weighed 13,000 pounds – give or take a few hundred pounds. He stood 12 feet tall at the shoulders and could reach an object with his trunk that was twenty-six feet off the ground.

Big Mary weighed a ton less than Jumbo but was touted as being three inches taller although no one was sure. Jumbo died accidentally 31 years previously, in 1895, in Canada, when he was hit by a freight train. It was reported that Jumbo had died while saving the life of a dwarf-elephant friend. P. T Barnum, Jumbo’s owner, nurtured the myth at every opportunity.

Sparks Brothers Circus hired Walter Eldridge, of St. Paul, Va., to help with the animals as they traversed the tri-state area of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.

Just a couple days later, on September 12, 1916, Eldridge rode Big Mary down Center Street in Kingsport, Tn, as he took the herd of elephants to water prior to an appearance by the circus.

The 36-year old Eldridge was enjoying the ride atop the huge elephant until she became distracted by the smell of watermelon. Mary began sauntering toward the onlooking crowd and Eldridge responded by hitting her in the jaw with the hooked stick as he attempted to snare her bridle. The blow struck Mary in the worst possible place.

Her teeth were Mary’s achilles heel. She had toothaches as big as herself and at the time of her arrival in the mountains she was suffering from a terrible abscess.

Mary, enraged, threw her head back and trumpeted in a mad frenzy. She clutched Eldridge around the waist with her trunk and held him high above the ground before dashing him hard against a drink stand.

“She threw him against the stand and it knocked the whole side out of it,” W. H. Coleman, who was 18 years old at the time of the incident, said later in life. “I’d say the man was killed when he hit the building, but Mary walked over and set her foot down on his head. She mashed his head as flat as your hand.

Many of the townspeople wanted her killed for her actions according to Coleman. It was reported that even the Governor of Tennessee, responding to public sentiment, agreed that Mary must die. It is doubtful that the governor was called as attempts were made to kill Mary right away. Hench Cox, a blacksmith, shot Mary five times with a 32 pistol but the bullets did not penetrate her tough hide. Reports of an attempt at electrocuting the doomed beast read: “Mary only danced a little.”

Someone, recalling Jumbo’s death, suggested that she be run over, or into, by a train. The idea was quickly discarded when train officials recalled that the collision with Jumbo resulted in derailment and damage to the locomotive, tender, and first car of the train.

Another person suggested that Mary be hanged and they explained that there was a huge railroad derrick in the Clinchfield Railroad yard in Erwin, Tn. that could heist up to 100 tons. It would surely be adequate for the task. Strangely, the circus would be in Erwin the following day.

Some of the circus workers who dealt with the huge elephant on a daily basis, disagreed with the decision to kill Mary. They said she had a gentle nature and that her heart was a big as she.

They were able to calm down the huge elephant following the death in the Kingsport street and she performed in the show that day. But Big Mary soon acted up again.

“The circus went on to Johnson City and Mary had a fit over there,” Coleman said. “She went after the circus manager and tore off his coat. He was lucky to escape alive. That’s when they decided to hang her.” Copyright 2019 Jadon Gibson

Editor’s note; Read more about Big Mary next week at bereaonline.com.  Jadon Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate, TN. His writings are both historical and nostalgic in nature and can be read weekly at bereaonline.com. Don’t miss a single posting!

A Voice for God – a voice for good

This is so important I’m using part of it again. Bullying and gossiping may be two of our leading social problems today. Some have said that many instances of suicide and some mass shootings are somehow related to bullying or to malicious untrue gossiping. Some youngsters withdraw into themselves and have difficulty coping when they are ostracized by their peers.

Some individuals say some untruth about someone to cause them to dislike or feel less about an individual. Although they may not believe it, often the hearer will repeat it to another and then to another. Grown-ups are often just as guilty as younger folks. In some instances it can be repeated so much some feel it must be true. It damages the credibility of the innocent. They may be the nicest person in the world. Does this sound familiar?

I ran across a poem by Helen Steiner Rice – ‘Worry no more! God knows the score!’ The gist of the poem is apropos, on target, for this subject matter. It brightened my day and can for others.

“Have you ever been caught in a web you didn’t weave, involved in conditions that are hard to believe?

Have you felt you must speak and explain and deny a story that’s groundless or a small whispered lie?

Have you ever heard rumors you would like to refute or some tell-tale gossip you would like to dispute?

Well, don’t be upset for God knows the score and with God as your judge you need worry no more.

For men may misjudge you but God’s verdict is fair For He looks deep inside and He is clearly aware.

Of every small detail in your pattern of living and always He is lenient and fair and forgiving –

And knowing that God is your judge and jury frees you completely from man’s falseness and fury.

And sure in this knowledge let your thoughts rise above man’s small shallow judgments that are so empty of God’s Goodness and Greatness in judging all men And forget ‘ugly rumors’ and be happy again.”

The innocent ones can take heart in Helen Steiner Rice’s poem. God is the final judge and He is all-knowing.My good Lord in Heaven has been so good to me. He will be to you as well. Keep Him in your heart and talk to Him regularly in prayer.

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