Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Canadian Observations: Part 3 - An elephantine tale

Niagara Falls, cities, the Great Lakes, leaves burnished with autumnal hues, historical sites - we saw them all as we scooted around Quebec and Ontario. But what excited me most was a statue of an elephant in the city of St Thomas. Not any old elephant mind you, I'm talking about THE elephant. The daddy of them all - Jumbo. Not Nelly, Dumbo but Jumbo. Intrigued? Read on...........
Jumbo (the name comes from the Swahili word “jumbe,” which means chief) was the star attraction of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. He was billed as the largest land animal ever in captivity. Born wild in the Sudan in 1859, Jumbo became the main attraction at the London Zoo for many years due to his tremendous size and mild temperament. However, he started getting bored and was acting up so, in 1882, the Zoo sold him for $10,000 to the circus. Jumbo's sale caused a great uproar throughout England, with Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales (Their majesties were not amused. Sorry, just couldn't let that one go by!) among many expressing their concern and disappointment. Despite attempts to block the sale, the ever-resourceful Barnum managed to secure his elephant and on Easter Sunday, April 9th, 1882, with bags pached (pached - pachyderm - get it?) Jumbo arrived in New York City to much celebration. In Jumbo's first year with the circus, Barnum earned $1.5 million. But the good times didn't last and, sadly, whilst preparing to board trains in St. Thomas on September 15th, 1885, Jumbo was hit by an oncoming locomotive and killed. According to legend, Jumbo sacrificed his own life to save a baby elephant called Tom Thumb. A touching story but almost definitely not true and a product of Barnum's showmanship. The life-size statue of Jumbo now commemorates the tragedy at the very spot where the accident occurred. Apparently there is also a mural somewhere nearby but we drew the line at looking for that. There was a limit to how much of St Thomas we wanted to see.
To complete the story: what do you do with the two ton corpse of a dead elephant? Employ an expert taxidermist, that's what! Jumbo's skeleton was donated to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. His heart was sold to Cornell University and his hide was stuffed and travelled with the circus for a number of years. Even in
Jumbo stood on display in Barnum Hall at Tufts until fire destroyed the building - and Jumbo - in 1975

death he performed and drew the crowds. In 1889, Barnum donated the stuffed Jumbo to Tufts University where it was displayed until destroyed by a fire in 1975. Jumbo's tail, which survived the fire, is kept in the University archives; his ashes, recovered at the time by a forward-thinking caretaker, are kept in a 14-ounce Peter Pan Crunchy Peanut Butter jar in the office of the Tufts athletic director.

A statue of Jumbo was purchased from an amusement park and placed on the Tufts campus after the fire; however this erroneously depicts an Asian elephant rather than an African one (it's in the ears, dear, the ears!). In honour of Barnum's donation of $50,000 and Jumbo's hide, Jumbo became the university's mascot and remains as such today. I think it's a lovely story. So, when you next order a large hot dog or sausage or fly on a Boeing 747, think 'Jumbo' and remember his statue at St Thomas and his remains in a peanut butter jar. Is there any significance in it being the crunchy variety? Maybe someone sampled the ashes and felt that the smooth version would not be appropriate?

And this is what Jumbo looks like today. Sort of. I doubt that his ashes are the colour of crunchy peanut butter but I stand to be corrected.

No comments: