At six and a half tons he was the biggest and best-loved elephant in captivity. When the London Zoo sold him to P.T. Barnum outraged Britons tried to buy him back. And when a freight train killed him at St. Thomas, Ont., millions of admirers mournedJAMES BANNERMAN November 12 1955
At six and a half tons he was the biggest and best-loved elephant in captivity. When the London Zoo sold him to P.T. Barnum outraged Britons tried to buy him back. And when a freight train killed him at St. Thomas, Ont., millions of admirers mournedJAMES BANNERMAN November 12 1955
ON THE night of September 15, 1885, the engine and one car of the Grand Trunk Railway’s Special Freight No. 151 went off the tracks at St. Thomas, Ont. A minor derailment is a fairly routine kind of accident as a rule, but this one wasn’t. On the contrary it was so fantastic it made railroad history. No. 151 had come to grief by colliding with the biggest elephant in the world.
The elephant, which died within ten minutes, was Jumbo—on tour as the main attraction of the Barnum, Bailey and Hutchinson circus. The immortal Phineas T. Barnum had bought him from the London zoo three years earlier, and proudly claimed on the circus posters that: “TOM THUMB and JENNY LIND, triumphs of the MASTER MIND OF THE AMUSEMENT WORLD, retire into Obscurity when viewed in the Full Blaze of the DAZZLING JUMBO.” It was true enough, but for once the Master Mind wasn’t responsible for the dazzle. Jumbo himself had started it, with a publicity stunt even Barnum never topped.
By going down on his knees at the zoo gate and whimpering pathetically when they were trying to take him away, the great beast convinced the British public he didn’t want to leave England. The British public reacted with an outburst of mawkish sympathy that astounded the whole world, and catapulted Jumbo into fame such as no other animal has had since time began. With an assist from Barnum it also catapulted him into the English language, where he still survives as the adjective “jumbo”—applied to out-sized shrimps, extra large hot dogs, people who are exceptionally tall and fat, and in general anything notably bigger than normal specimens of its kind.
Jumbo’s death was as newsworthy as his celebrated reluctance to leave the zoo had been. Word of the sad event was Hashed by telegraph and the new-fangled telephone to all North America, and by cable to the corners of the globe. It got space in the papers of every city from Athens and Brisbane and Cairo down through the alphabet to Yalta and Zanzibar. In London, where Jumbo was unforgotten, it was the big news of the day. In St. Thomas itself, the nine thousand inhabitants had the gratification of knowing that the name of what had hitherto been a somewhat obscure western Ontario railroad town was now on the lips of the world. And their own Daily Times, still going strong in 1955 as part of the Times-Journal, printed a death notice as ingenious as it was heartfelt.
It was a black-bordered cut of something that looked like the outline of an ornate tombstone, tastefully set up in ten sorts of type with only one mistake. (It said he’d died at the age of twenty-four, but he was really twenty-eight.) The writer of the obituary went perhaps a little too far when he described Jumbo as “the pillar of a people’s hope—the centre of a world’s desire,” but he was perfectly justified in calling him “the pet of thousands and the friend of all.” The Daily Times man had put his finger on the secret of Jumbo’s popularity. The immense creature had been admired less for his size, staggering though it was, than for his winning ways.
When Barnum bought him Jumbo had been in London’s Royal Zoological Gardens for seventeen years. Unlike his new owner, who’d paid ten thousand dollars for him, the zoo authorities had got him in a deal they made in 1861 which didn’t involve any money at all. At that time they needed another elephant but had a surplus rhinoceros on hand. Through their scouts they learned the Paris zoo needed a rhinoceros but was overstocked with elephants—including one four-year-old a mere four feet high, recently obtained from west Africa. Since the rhino was worth less than a full-grown elephant, London suggested sending it to Paris in exchange for the four-year-old. Paris was delighted, and promptly shipped the youngster across the Channel in a sturdy little cage.
London named him Jumbo (short for Mumbo Jumbo, a kind of guardian angel who protects west African villages from evil spirits) and added him to the five other elephants it already had, all of them bigger than he was. Over the years he grew enormously, and by the late 1870s he was eleven feet six inches tall and weighed six and a half tons. He’d become the largest elephant in captivity, and the zoo’s directors knew it, but such was their distaste for publicity they kept this ostentatious fact to themselves. Visitors to the zoo, who might have been impressed if they’d known about it, were left to form their opinion of Jumbo without benefit of statistics. They could hardly fail to notice his vast bulk, but what struck most people more than anything else was the charm of his personality.
“Gentle as a Poodle Dog”
Even when he simply stood in his pen in the Elephant House, swaying from side to side as elephants do, it was obvious from the twinkle in his eye and the unmistakable smiling of his vast mouth that here was a truly amiable creature. But the full sweetness of his character didn’t appear until he was led out, as he was every fine afternoon, to lumber along the zoo paths with eight or ten children on his back.
An English journalist described this touching sight in one of the many affectionate pieces that were written after Jumbo had left for America.
“It will be difficult,” he said, “to get used to the Zoo without Jumbo and his cargo of merry children, ranging from the tiny tot of two - more than half afraid of the unwieldy monster and only quieted by the care of the keeper, who seemed to be as skilful in managing children as in controlling his huge steed —to the bolder youngster of six with whom Jumbo was a familiar friend, or the sedate damsel of thirteen who mounts more for the sake of old times than for the actual enjoyment of the ride. Jumbo was a universal favorite, and as gentle with children as the best-trained poodle dog, taking the proferred biscuit or lump of sugar with an almost incredible delicacy of touch . . . The most nervous child, having once overcome his alarm, never hesitated to hand a morsel to his waving trunk a second time.”
That was typical of the way Londoners felt about him in the spring of 1882—in sharp contrast to the attitude of the superintendent of the zoo as expressed in a letter to the directors a few months earlier. The superintendent, a man named Bartlett, wrote:
I have for some time past felt very uncomfortable with reference to this fine animal, now quite or nearly adult, and my fear of him is also entertained by all the keepers except Matthew Scott ... I have no doubt whatever that this animal's condition has at times been such that he would kill anyone (except Scott) who would venture alone in his den, but up to the present time Scott has had and still has the animal perfectly and completely under his control. How long this state of things may continue it is quite impossible to say . . . May I ask that I should be provided with, and have ready at hand, the means of killing this animal should such a necessity arise?
Jumbo had never attacked anyone in his life, and had never been even mildly irritable, but he’d reached the age for mating—a time when male elephants are apt to fly into sudden and murderous fits of rage. That explains why Bartlett was so afraid of him. It doesn’t explain why the zoo directors, after getting a report like that, continued to let children ride him. Neither Bartlett nor the directors ever gave any reason for their negligence.
Too Big Even for Barnum
What Bartlett’s report does make clear is why they were willing to sell Jumbo. Until then they’d never even contemplated such a thing, but now it was different. When one of Barnum’s agents, touring Europe in the winter of 1881 in search of novelties for the circus, approached them with a proposal to buy at a good big price, they were officially reluctant but privately overjoyed. Barnum himself, who didn’t share their apprehension and was in New York at the time, cabled an offer of ten thousand dollars as soon as the agent sent word the directors might part with the zoo’s chief attraction. The offer was accepted by cable two days later, and the next morning Barnum’s head elephant man was on his way to London with orders to get Jumbo safely to the U. S. The old showman—he was then seventy-two— promptly began his publicity build-up.
He called Jumbo the "Overshadowing Monarch Mastodon whose like does not exist in the Wide World,” the "Prodigious Mountain” and the "Behemoth of Holy Writ,” but for him these were almost understatements. He started a rumor that Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales were much upset by Jumbo’s sale, which was better but still not up to his mark. He announced that Jumbo was "the only modern accepted symbol for magnitude”—a premature claim that later almost came true. But on the whole he found it was actually possible to be, in a phrase he’d hitherto used with his tongue in his cheek. At a Loss for Words. The biggest elephant in the world was proving a little too superlative for the greatest showman on earth.
For a while it looked as though Jumbo was also going to be too much for Barnum’s head elephant man, William Newman. The deal with the zoo had been that Barnum would be responsible for getting Jumbo away from the premises and down to the ship that was to take him to America. Newman, known to circus folk as Elephant Bill, had worked out what seemed to him a simple plan for doing this, and didn’t expect any trouble at all.
The first step was to have carpenters make a massive cage, built of great wooden beams reinforced with straps of iron and looking like a cross between a huge packing case and a small railroad cattle car. It was high enough to give Jumbo about a foot of headroom, and wide enough to let him sway a little from side to side as he stood in it. The lengthwise beams were a few inches apart to let the air circulate and the front of the cage consisted of nothing but iron bars; these two features took care of the ventilation. The cage was mounted on a massive four-wheeled wooden trolley, much like a modern float truck, which was to be hauled by six great dray horses through six miles of streets from the zoo to the Millwall docks, where Jumbo would be put aboard the steamer Persian Monarch.
The second step of the plan was to have a swimming-pool-shaped hole dug just outside the Elephant House, deep enough so that when the trolley was in it the floor of the cage would be almost but not quite flush with the ground. Leading up to the floor, on a gentle incline, was a kind of ramp made of two-inch planks. They brought Jumbo out in chains, to make him more manageable as he was eased into the cage, and that was Elephant Bill’s first mistake. Jumbo resented the chains, and spent about three hours trying rather nervously to break them. Finally Matthew Scott, the keeper who’d looked after him for the seventeen years he'd been at the zoo, calmed him with sugary buns and reassuring words and coaxed him up to the ramp—that turned out to be Elephant Bill’s second mistake.
Bill was convinced it was strong enough to bear Jumbo’s weight, but Jumbo wasn’t so confident. He touched the planks lightly with one enormous forefoot (his feet measured a yard and a half in circumference), and absolutely refused to venture any farther. No amount of buns and reassurance from Scott could induce him to budge, and a couple of hours later he was taken back to the Elephant House for the night.
That was on Saturday, Feb. 11, 1882, one week before the Persian Monarch was due to sail for New York. Elephant Bill congratulated himself on having allowed plenty of time in case of trouble and worked out a new plan. Early next morning he’d have Scott lead Jumbo down to the docks on foot, followed at a discreet distance by the six horses hauling the cage. He felt that when Jumbo was well clear of the zoo he’d be less apt to balk, and could be quietly herded into his cage at the dockside.
Once more Bill was wrong. Jumbo left his pen without protest, and lumbered peacefully along the zoo paths as far as the gate that opened onto the street. Halfway through he stopped, tested the paved surface of the road just as he'd tested the planks of the ramp, and reacted in the same way. He didn’t think the road would hold him, and backed timidly into the grounds again.
This time Scott scolded him instead of coaxing, whereupon Jumbo whimpered loudly and pathetically, stroked the keeper in an imploring manner with his trunk, and then went down on his knees to him. When that didn’t melt Scott’s heart, Jumbo simply rolled over on his side and lay still—six and a half tons of immovable obstinacy.
The gate was near the Parrot House, whose inhabitants had been so frightened by Jumbo’s loud misery they’d started a panic - stricken screeching which in turn set the other birds and animals howling and hooting and roaring at the top of their lungs. Newspaper reporters covering Jumbo’s departure decided that Alice, a female elephant wrongly thought to be Jumbo’s mate, was making the most noise of all. It gave them a wonderful story—Jumbo like a true-born Englishman refusing to go and live in America, Alice like a loving wife crying for her husband to come home, and they dashed off in hansom cabs to get the story into print.
Meanwhile Scott gave up, and made Jumbo understand he wasn’t going to scold him any more. Jumbo patted him gratefully on the head with his trunk, got to his feet and lumbered back to his pen again. Elephant Bill notified the captain of the Persian Monarch that Jumbo wouldn’t be on hand when the ship sailed, and arranged for passage on the next outward ship of the same company—the Assyrian Monarch, leaving London March 25. (The Monarch Line had been chosen because its ships had extra long and wide hatchways and exceptional headroom between decks.)
Until the newspaper misinterpretation of Jumbo’s balkiness appeared, the British public had taken his sale with comparative calm. The story changed that to a sudden national orgy of sympathy which verged on mass hysteria. The editor of Vanity Fair, a fashionable weekly not noted for sentimentality, let himself go clear overboard. "Tempted by Barnum and his miserable £2,000,” he wrote, "the Council of the Zoological Society have had the inhumanity to sell Jumbo into American slavery.” He then announced he was opening a Jumbo Defense Fund with five pounds out of his own pocket, and invited his readers to contribute.
Vanity Fair’s fund was perhaps the classiest, but it was by no means the only one, and within a few days Jumbo could have been bought back ten times over—if Barnum had been willing to sell. He wasn’t, and in the first week of March Mr. Berkeley Hill, a Fellow of the Zoological Society who’d never approved of what the council had done, applied for an injunction to set aside the sale. It was refused by Mr. Justice Chitty in Chancery when Bartlett, the zoo superintendent, testified it would be dangerous to keep Jumbo because he’d reached an age when "he would become liable to certain fits of rage.”
Lured to a Traveling Cage
That was the end of the efforts to keep Jumbo in England, but not of the national orgy of sympathy and interest. Pictures of him were on sale everywhere. So were Jumbo hats, collars, neckties, cigars and fans. In the House of Commons a journalist member, Henry Labouchère, asked the secretary of the board of trade whether proper precautions were being taken to prevent Jumbo from breaking loose on board the Assyrian Monarch and endangering the six hundred emigrants who were to be his fellow passengers. The secretary said he’d detailed a number of board of trade surveyors to see that all was in order, and was satisfied the passengers would be perfectly safe.
On Wednesday, March 15, Elephant Bill tried a third plan for getting Jumbo into his traveling cage. He had the swimming-pool-shaped hole in front of the Elephant House deepened until the floor of the cage could be sunk completely flush with the ground. He also had the floor covered with gravel from the zoo paths, hoping the familiar surface would make Jumbo feel safe. It did, and this time he walked in almost without hesitation. The six horses hauled him to a dock a couple of miles upstream from the Mill wall dock where the steamer lay; he was trans-shipped to a barge for the rest of the journey, and on March 17 he was put aboard the Assyrian Monarch. Once he’d been brought to the ship’s side, the operation of hoisting up the cage and lowering through the main hatch to the specially reinforced main deck took only eight minutes. Scott, whom Barnum hired, rode the cage holding Jumbo’s trunk and murmuring soothingly, and Jumbo wasn’t frightened at all.
The ocean crossing was uneventful, except for a gale. It didn’t bother Jumbo, nor curb the appetite with which he ate his way through the two tons of hay, three sacks of oats, two sacks of biscuits and one of onions —his great treat—that had been provided for the voyage. The Assyrian Monarch docked in New York on April 9, and Jumbo, holding fast with his trunk to Scott’s hand, was taken through streets lined by cheering crowds to Madison Square Garden, where Barnum’s circus was playing.
It had three rings, two for displays of bareback riding and other feats of horsemanship, and one, in the centre, for what were called ground acts—jugglers, tumblers and the like. The show opened with a grand parade of the whole troupe, spangled and glittering. When Jumbo joined he marched in the parade in solitary grandeur, apart from the twenty-odd other elephants and quite unperturbed by the flaring gaslights and the thunderous waves of applause. After the parade the ringmaster introduced the curiosities and main features one by one—the Chinese Giant, the Bearded Lady, a pair of giraffes broken to harness and pulling a gig, General Tom Thumb and Wife, and finally, to majestic music ending in a soul-stirring drum roll . . . JUHUMBO!
From then on the show, as described in the New York Herald, consisted of "extraordinary performances on horseback, gymnastic and athletic exercises, juggling, wire-rope walking, trapeze-flying and other attractions 'too numerous to mention.’ ” As for Jumbo, it was enough for people just to look at him as he ambled around the tanbark, or stood patiently swaying while he was introduced. Barnum had paid thirty thousand dollars for him, counting the purchase price and all transportation costs. From the moment Jumbo joined the show he brought three thousand dollars a day to the box office over and above the usual receipts. Within two weeks he’d paid for himself and earned a handsome profit of twenty percent.
For the next three years the show followed its cycle of playing the Garden in the spring, then going on the road until fall, then laying up in winter quarters at Bridgeport, Conn., until it was time to open at the Garden again. Jumbo was a trooper from the start, and as popular with the circus audiences as he’d been with visitors at the London zoo. During the Canadian part of the 1883 road season, when the show played one-day stands in the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario, it took $15,896.75 in Montreal, $13,864.80 in Toronto and $13,451.50 in Hamilton —all bigger receipts than it had ever had in those places, and all due to the immense presence of Jumbo.
He and Scott traveled in what Barnum called "Jumbo’s Palace Car,” which looked like a gigantic red-and-gold-painted boxcar with vast double doors in the middle reaching down almost to the rails, rolling on two bogey-trucks of six wheels each. In this fantastic vehicle Scott had a bunk near Jumbo’s head. It was his custom to split a quart of beer with Jumbo every night after the show. One night Scott forgot to share, and drank the whole quart himself. Jumbo waited until his friend was sound asleep, then reached out with his trunk, picked Scott from the bunk and laid him gently on the floor of the palace car —after which he hardly needed to point to the empty bottle. Scott never again forgot to give Jumbo his pint.
For the 1885 season Barnum had added some Nubian Warriors, a few Fierce Afghans, and a Voluptuous Company of Indian Nautch Dancers. The show opened at Madison Square Garden on March 16, then toured New York, Pennsylvania, the New England states, and then came north to New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. By the time it got to St. Thomas, on Sept. 15, it had played well over a hundred cities and towns and covered almost eight thousand miles. The circus people, wearied with the endless routine, expected St. Thomas to be just another one-day stand.
At first it looked as though they were right. When they pulled in on a Tuesday morning the roustabouts set“When he saw the speeding train Jumbo trumpeted his terror and fled wildly” up the big tent in a vacant field near the railroad station, and the performers and the band and the animals paraded along the main street. After lunch the afternoon show began. It was Barnum’s policy that every performance, everywhere, should be exactly the same as the evening shows at Madison Square Garden. Consequently all the acts went as they always had—until it came time for an equestrian named Nicholls to do his feat of jumping a number of high hurdles while riding bareback on a horse at full gallop.
As the music went faster and faster and the excited horse jumped at the second-highest hurdle (the highest was the grand climax) Nicholls lost his grip on the bare back and fell. He was carried out so quickly the audience hardly had time to realize what had happened. The show went on, people laughed at the clowns, gasped at Jumbo’s towering bulk, and Nicholls died.
His death cast a chill of gloom over all the circus folk, but they followed their tradition and didn’t let the public see how they felt. The evening show had all its customary brilliance, and also its customary routine. It was laid down that when the elephants finished their military drill, about halfway through the performance, they were to be taken off and loaded into the animal cars. This was done that Tuesday night, with Jumbo and a little trick elephant named Tom Thumb the last to go because they closed the act.
The circus train was on a siding in the yards, separated from the Grand Trunk main line only by the narrow strip of cinders between the two tracks. While Jumbo and Tom Thumb were being led by their keepers down the main line to their cars, Special Freight No. 151, drawn by GTR locomotive No. 88, came rushing at them from behind—west-bound on the same line. The moment the engineer, William Burnip, saw them he whistled for brakes (1885 was two years before the Westinghouse air brake came into use on freights, and brakemen still had to set brakes on signal by turning the big handwheels at the end of each boxcar) and heaved on the Johnson bar to throw the engine into reverse.
Jumbo, who’d seen the yellow glare of the special’s oil-lamp headlight reflected on the tracks a few seconds before the engineer blew the three short whistle blasts of the brake signal, realized the danger even before Scott did. He trumpeted so loudly the sound could be heard in the big tent above the brassy clamor of the band, and started to run wildly down the track. There was no escape to the right, because the long circus train on the siding blocked his way like a wall. On his left there was an embankment which dropped abruptly about six feet to a clear and open level space. Scott tried to get him to swerve and go down it to safety, but Jumbo paid no attention. He was more afraid of stumbling and falling on the steep slope than he was of the onrushing train, and with Scott running frantically beside him he sprinted away from it along the main line as fast as he could go. Tom Thumb was sprinting too, equally determined not to risk the embankment, but with his much shorter legs he couldn’t keep up with Jumbo, who quickly left him behind.
Scott’s idea was to get Jumbo to the far end of the circus train, where he could turn right across level ground, before the special overtook them. Unfortunately it was gaining on them fast, since the train was too heavy for the handbrakes and the reversed engine to check it effectively. When Jumbo was still seven car lengths from the end of the circus train, the locomotive’s cowcatcher hit little Tom Thumb and threw him aside, breaking one of his legs. By the time Jumbo had gone one more car length he too was hit.
The cowcatcher caught him on the hind legs, bringing him down like a tackled football player, and flung him violently against the sixth show car. The engine ploughed on for a few feet, slamming Jumbo still more violently against the show car, then ran off the track and toppled over on its side at the very edge of the embankment, taking with it the first boxcar behind the tender. Although engineer Burnip and the fireman were badly shaken they weren’t seriously hurt. Scott had jumped clear in the nick of time and wasn’t hurt at all, but Jumbo was mortally wounded. The crash had been so full of driving force on one hand and inert massiveness on the other that those who were there when it happened said the noise of it, sudden and appallingly loud, sounded more like a collision between two engines than between one engine and a creature of flesh and blood. Jumbo lay huddled against the circus train, with his skull fractured, deep gashes in his leathery hide, and the vital organs in his great body burst and torn.
The Little Elephant Lived
At first his moans of agony carried nearly as far as his terrified trumpeting had done when he’d seen the glare of the headlight shining on the rails. Then Scott stretched out on the bloodied cinders beside his old friend’s head and tried to comfort him. Jumbo seemed to understand. His moaning quieted at once, and he reached with his trunk to take Scott’s hand. He died a few minutes later, still holding it. When it could be seen he was no longer breathing Scott got to his feet, looked at the crowd of railroad men and roustabouts that had gathered, turned his back and began to cry like a child.
Farther down the track another crowd of men was gathered around the little trick elephant. Most were only staring, but some were pushing with all their might against his shoulder to help take the weight off his broken leg. They continued their support as his keeper led him gently away toward his car, and in that way the living Tom Thumb was taken past the dead Jumbo. The two of them had liked each other’s company and it was supposed they were the best of friends, but the little animal gave no sign of sorrow or even recognition at the sight of Jumbo’s body. Just as Jumbo had unhesitatingly left Tom Thumb behind and run for his life from the oncoming engine of the special, so Tom Thumb now limped by him and didn’t as much as turn his head.
While the men with Tom were doing their best to get him into his car without letting him bear down on his broken leg, the men who’d watched Jumbo die were making ready to move the carcass, which was partly blocking the Grand Trunk’s main line. It took a great many of them to do it, hauling on the ropes they’d attached and levering with scantlings and crowbars and anything else they could find that would serve. With immense effort they got the carcass to the edge of the embankment of which Jumbo had been afraid, and toppled it over. It slid down and came to rest when the feet touched the level ground at the bottom. Since an elephant’s knees are set low, the huge stiff pillars of the legs kept the body from slumping, and gave it the appearance of an immense toy leaning against the wall of some giant child’s room.
There it stayed for the night, while the circus train pulled out and the first story of Jumbo’s death was put on the wires. It said that while Jumbo was being transferred to a car on the London and Port Stanley Railway at St. Thomas, he’d been struck by a freight train, and gave no further details—but it did mention the death of Nicholls, who within a few hours was so completely overshadowed by Jumbo’s fame he never made the news again. A second story, printed as confirmation of the first, added that "the baby elephant also had a leg broken.’’ A brief third story said it had been reported that "the baby elephant which had its leg broken in the accident last night is dead.”
This was a double error. Tom Thumb soon recovered completely except for a slight permanent limp, and he was an adult dwarf. The circus did have a baby elephant, which had been born at the winter quarters three years earlier and named Bridgeport after its birthplace, but it had been safe in its car when the accident happened. Yet many people in St. Thomas believed the mistaken story, as some still do to this day, and over the years it has been even further distorted and made into a legend—that Jumbo died a hero’s death trying to save Bridgeport by standing fast and deliberately letting the engine hit him instead of the little one.
Barnum got the news of the accident the following morning, Sept. 16, while he was at breakfast in the Murray Hill Hotel in New York. Reporters who interviewed him said he was plainly affected, but it was equally plain that his grief hadn’t kept him from exercising his matchless talent for showmanship. "The loss is tremendous,” he said (it probably was, since he only carried $31,000 of insurance on the whole circus), "but such a trifle never disturbs my nerves. Have I not lost a million dollars by fires, and half as much by other financial misfortunes? But long ago I learned that to those I who mean right and try to do right there are no such things as real misfortunes.”
He then set about proving his point. "My first thought,” he told the reporters, "was of the many thousands who were counting on seeing the giant beast, the largest living creature in the world.” So as not to disappoint them he’d already wired Professor Henry Ward, of Ward’s Natural Science Establishment at Rochester, N.Y., to go at once to St. Thomas and skin Jumbo. The professor, a taxidermist, would take the hide back to Rochester for stuffing and mounting. Jumbo would then be put on exhibition in the circus.
Ward reached St. Thomas on Sept. 17 with two assistants. While he studied Jumbo’s body the assistants called on a number of St. Thomas butchers to recruit help—the butchering involved being more than Ward and his assistants could handle alone. Toward noon policemen began to arrive at the embankment, and drove away the crowd of souvenir hunters who were cutting off little pieces of Jumbo’s hide, snipping at the hairs which grew sparsely here and there on him, or chipping slivers of ivory from the stumps of his tusks. (He’d broken the long tapering ends years before by getting them stuck in the cracks of a door in the Elephant House at the London zoo, and twisting his head in panic when he found he couldn’t free himself.)
Once the souvenir hunters were clear of the body, the police spaced themselves in a kind of ring, to keep people from seeing what was about to be done. Near the embankment end of the ring there was a gate in the fence that ran at right angles to the tracks, and those who wanted a close look could pass through it by paying five cents to an enterprising concessionaire.
At one o’clock, under Ward’s direction, his assistants and the local butchers began their work by skinning the great forlorn body. Next the actual butchering was started. Since Barnum wanted the skeleton as well as the hide, the bones had to he dissected from the tons of flesh. When this part of the job was finished, late in the afternoon, all the remains were heaped on a funeral pyre of four cords of wood. The pyre was set alight, the smell of roasting elephant meat drifted across St. Thomas, and within a few hours the ashes of Jumbo and the cordwood were intermingled in the dying glow of the fire.
Meanwhile Barnum and the Grand Trunk Railway were squaring off for a legal fight. Barnum claimed Jumbo had been killed through the Grand Trunk’s negligence, and announced that he was suing for a hundred thousand dollars. The day Jumbo was skinned, the Grand Trunk issued a statement saying it would resist any claim for damages. It took the position that the fence which ran along its right-of-way at the place of the accident had been torn down by circus hands who wanted a shortcut to the animal cars. The Grand Trunk said if they’d taken the trouble to go a short distance up the line to the regular level crossing, the signalman there would have warned them the special was coming. Since they hadn’t done this, the Grand Trunk said, the death of Jumbo was their fault.
Barnum treated this statement with outraged scorn, and promptly began suit. A writ of attachment was issued in New York, but since the Grand Trunk’s property wasn’t in the jurisdiction of the court the writ couldn’t he enforced. It seems clear that Barnum thought enforcing it less important than the greater publicity he could get by bringing suit in the big city rather than in a Canadian court—the logical procedure if he’d been really anxious to collect damages. But in the spring of 1886, just after the circus opened in Madison Square Garden at the beginning of its season, the Grand Trunk lowered its guard. A party of its officers went to New York in one of the railroad’s private cars, which was seized by the sheriff of New York County.
The Grand Trunk got ready to fight the ease, and Barnum pretended to be getting ready too. But it wouldn’t be long before the circus would leave the Garden and go on the road, and the Grand Trunk had the contract for the Canadian part of the haul, for which it was to he paid $4,400. Barnum felt it might be wiser under the circumstances not to press his claim, because if he won his suit the railroad might well make expensive trouble for him. He therefore offered to settle out of court, saying he’d withdraw his claim if the Grand Trunk would do the Canadian haul free. The offer was accepted, and Barnum was triumphant —until the circus eventually reached Guelph, Ont.
Its next stop was to be Brantford. By some oversight Brantford hadn’t been included in the contract with the Grand Trunk. Before the show train left, the railroad wired Barnum that since the haul was unscheduled a charge would be made for it. The distance from Guelph to Brantford by rail is thirty miles. The charge, by an unsurprising coincidence, was $4,400. Barnum paid, with well-publicized howls of anguish.
This was all the more consoling since Barnum needed publicity for the last full-scale promotion stunt he ever planned for Jumbo. Not long after the fatal accident he’d offered to buy Alice, Jumbo’s alleged mate, from the London zoo, and the zoo had accepted. Alice got to America in time to join the Greatest Show on Earth when it opened in New York, and there and on the road she formed part of a truly remarkable exhibit. Professor Ward had finished his work, and had delivered Jumbo’s skeleton and his stuffed hide. It was thus possible to display Jumbo, his bones and his reputed wife side by side on a massive platform.
The three were a useful attraction, and Barnum sent them out again in 1887. About a month after the tour was over and the circus was back in Bridgeport, the winter quarters burned to the ground. Alice died in the flames, but Jumbo and his skeleton were saved.
Alice had added a touch that was needed to keep Jumbo’s appeal fresh. Now she was gone Barnum decided to drop the Overshadowing Monarch Mastodon from the show. Three years earlier he’d given Tufts College in Boston fifty-five thousand dollars to build a natural history museum. He now decided to add the stuffed Jumbo to his gift, and to send the skeleton to the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
There Jumbo’s hide and his skeleton still are, and there his story ends—on a note of triumph for the supreme showmanship of Phineas Taylor Barnum. Nobody else would have thought of the arrangement by which Jumbo has remained on view to this day in two different places, two hundred miles apart, at one and the same time.