Mary (elephant)

Mary (elephant)
The hanging of 'Mary'

Mary was a five ton Asian elephant who performed in the Sparks World Famous Shows circus. Her death is sometimes interpreted as a cautionary tale of circus animal abuse during the early twentieth century.


The death of Red Eldridge

On September 11, 1916, a hotel worker named Red Eldridge was hired as an assistant elephant trainer by the circus. On the evening of September 12 he was killed by Mary in Kingsport, Tennessee, while taking her to a nearby pond to splash and drink.[1] There are several accounts of his death but the most widely accepted version[citation needed] is that he prodded her behind the ear with a hook after she reached down to nibble on a watermelon rind. She went into a rage, snatched Eldridge with her trunk, threw him against a drink stand and stepped on his head, crushing it.


The details of the aftermath are confused in a maze of sensationalist newspaper stories and folklore. Most accounts indicate that she calmed down afterward and didn't charge the onlookers, who began chanting, "Kill the elephant!" Apparently[according to whom?] within minutes, a local blacksmith tried to kill Mary, firing more than two dozen rounds with little effect. Newspapers[which?] published claims that Murderous Mary had killed several workers in the past and noted that she was larger than the world famous Jumbo the elephant. Meanwhile, the leaders of several nearby towns threatened not to allow the circus to visit if Mary was included. The circus owner, Charlie Sparks, reluctantly decided that the only way to quickly resolve the potentially ruinous situation was to kill the elephant in public. On the following day, a foggy and rainy September 13, 1916, she was transported by rail to Erwin, Tennessee, where a crowd of over 2,500 people (including most of the town's children) assembled in the Clinchfield Railroad yard.

The elephant was hanged by the neck from a railcar-mounted industrial crane. The first attempt resulted in a snapped chain, causing Mary to fall and break her hip as dozens of children fled in terror. The severely wounded elephant died during a second attempt and was buried beside the tracks. Although the authenticity of a widely distributed (and heavily retouched) photo of her death was disputed years later by Argosy magazine, other photographs taken during the incident confirm its provenance.[citation needed]

References in popular media

George Brant's 2008 play Elephant's Graveyard tells the story of Mary's execution through the circus members and the residents of Erwin.[2]

Writer Caleb Lewis has written a play about Mary and the events that led to her execution entitled Clinchfield. The play premiered at Flinders University on 22 July 2009.

Singer songwriter Chuck Brodsky has written a song titled "Mary The Elephant".


See also

External links

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