Thursday, April 6, 2017

E - Jumbo the Elephant

You've probably heard of Jumbo the Elephant, a legendary African Bush Elephant, born in Sudan in 1861 who ended up in PT Barnun's circus in 1882 after stays in French and British Zoos. Jumbo was the headliner of Barnun's circus for only a few short years, but was so famous that our modern word "jumbo" - meaning really big - actually comes from him.

But do you know how Jumbo died?

There are a few conflicting stories as to exactly what happened, but here are the facts: Jumbo died after being hit by a train in the Canadian town of St. Thomas, Ontario on September 15, 1885. The elephants were being led back to their enclosures after a show when the tragedy stuck. The precise details of the tragedy are open to interpretation.

The most colourful and dramatic version of the story, supposedly by Barnun himself, is that another, smaller elephant named Tom Thumb was on the track and Jumbo threw himself in front of the train to save it, derailing the train in the process.

Newspaper reports of the day neglect to mention the derailing, but did mention that a second elephant suffered a broken leg. Another story claims that Jumbo had actually tripped on the rails and impaled himself on his tusk, killing him instantly. The train then arrived unexpectedly and ran over the body.

The most heartbreaking version of the tale says that Jumbo was seriously injured by the train, and that his long-time trainer could do nothing but sit with him and comfort him while he died.

Jumbo statue located in St. Thomas, Ontario.

Whatever the case, Jumbo's legacy lives on. A life-sized statue of Jumbo was erected in St. Thomas in 1985 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his death. His skeleton was donated to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. His taxidermied hide was put on display at PT Barnum Hall in Tufts University in Massachusetts. The hide was later destroyed by fire but a few pieces of it still remain on display, and Jumbo remains the school's mascot.

My A-to-Z Blogging Challenge theme for 2017 is Weird Canadian Facts and History. To see more blog posts, click here.

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