Mary the elephant
This is a heartbreaking but true story dedicated to the memory of Mary the elephant, a circus animal trained for the pleasure of families who paid to see her perform.
The story of Mary the elephant
The story goes that in 1916, Sparks Circus rolled into the American railway town of Erwin in Tennessee. Sparks Circus was small in comparison to its rivals; featuring performing dogs, sealions, clowns, horses and a handful of elephants. The star attraction of the show was Mary, a 30 year old female elephant who was reported to be the largest living animal at that time weighing in at an impressive five tonnes! Mary was a crowd pleaser who had been with Sparks since 1896 when she had been bought by Charlie Sparks (owner) and his wife Addie as a four year old.
Charlie and Addie were animal lovers and treated all of their animals well. The trainers were under instruction that all of the animals should be handled gently. There are several versions of events that have evolved over the years regarding what happened on that fateful day of September 13th, 1916.
Louis Reed had been the regular trainer and had decided to leave the circus. A short time later, a man named Walter "Red" Eldridge was appointed as Animal Handler. There is not a lot known about his past, although there was a lot of speculation that he had no experience as an animal handler. Some say that he had no family and had worked previously in hotels, drifting from town to town. Other reports claim that he was a local man wanting a change in career.
On the morning that tragedy struck, Mary and the other four elephants had been led to a drinking hole for fresh water and were making their way back to the tents. Noticing some watermelon on the ground, Mary stopped to eat it. Rather than waiting for her to finish eating, "Red" kept prodding her with a bull hook on her ear which was very sensitive. Mary went berserk and attacked him, lifting him with her trunk and throwing him to the ground. While "Red" was lying on the ground, she trampled on his head with her huge feet. He died instantly. The towns people were furious and called for the animal to be killed.
The hanging of Mary the elephant
After working with Mary for over 20 years, Charlie and Addie Sparks were devastated. All who had known Mary knew that she was a huge beast who was a bit temperamental, but insisted that she had never been dangerous to work with. The towns people dubbed her Murderous Mary. The Sheriff deemed that Mary should not be allowed to perform again and that she had to be put to death. She was taken to the jailhouse and chained outside. Huge crowds gathered for one last glimpse of her, before her fate was decided. Several options were considered, including crushing her between railroad carriages, shooting and even lacing some food with cyanide.
Very reluctantly, and with tears in his eyes, Charlie Sparks decided that she should be hanged from a railway crane. Onlookers gathered to witness the creature being killed.
The first attempt to hang her failed as the chains snapped under her weight, the second attempt succeeded. She died within a few minutes.
Mary was buried in the ground near the railway tracks where her life had ended. Opinions were divided over this hanging. Many people thought that Mary should have been killed as she had herself taken a life. Others thought that she was a wild animal who had tried to be tamed and taught tricks to be performed for money. It was later discovered, after her death, that she had untreated dental problems which could have lead to the attack on "Red". This could perhaps explain why she went into a rage after being prodded by him with the bull hook.
It is a controversial subject, and my opinion is that animals should not be allowed to perform in circuses. I think it is demeaning, cruel and an infringement on the animals rights.
Do you think it's acceptable to have animals performing in circuses?
Since her death sentence in 1916, Mary has been the subject of books, newspaper articles, plays, and even a song.
"So many gods, so many creeds, So many paths that wind and wind, While just the art of being kind is all the sad world needs." Wilcox, Ella Wheeler
Mary will never be forgotten as she is part of our history. This upsetting story should be told, to avoid unnecessary cruelty in the future.
For me, the R.S.P.C.A.'s slogan today says it all:
The RSPCA as a charity will," by all lawful means, prevent cruelty, promote kindness to and alleviate suffering of all animals".