One hundred and thirty-two years ago today the largest elephant of his time arrived in New York City. Both before and after his arrival, this 12-foot-tall 6-ton elephant named Jumbo had a tumultuous life.
Jumbo was captured as a baby in Ethiopia in 1861 and, after being sold several times, eventually ended up at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris for three years, according to Tufts Journal. There he met Matthew Scott, the man who would rehabilitate Jumbo back to health (he’d become ill after suffering from neglect) and be his keeper for the rest of his days.
After a stint in London, Barnum purchased Jumbo from the Royal Zoological Society for $US10,000, according to Tufts. Despite protests from Queen Victoria, Jumbo was taken to America.
On April 9, 1882, Jumbo arrived in the Big Apple. He subsequently toured with Barnum & Bailey Circus for several years.
Jumbo died in 1885 after being hit by a train as his keeper was leading him across a seldom-used rail track, according to Tufts. Rumours persist that as Jumbo was dying he reached out his trunk to Scott.
Barnum had Jumbo’s hide stuffed, and he continued to take him on circus tours. Jumbo’s body was eventually given to the Barnum Museum of Natural History, where it stood until he was burned in a fire in 1975. Before that, Jumbo became Tuft’s mascot. Students would pull on his tail for good luck during games and put pennies in his trunk, Tufts Journal said.
After he burned, his ashes were put in a peanut butter jar, which is still considered a good luck charm by Tufts athletes. Jumbo’s legacy lives on today, not only as a Tuft’s mascot but also as a musical muse for a Canadian folk singer. A life-size sculpture of the elephant was erected 100 years after he passed, in St. Thomas, Ontario, the town of the frightful railway accident.
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