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Jumbo (ca. Christmas 1860 â€" September 15, 1885) was the first international animal superstar, and the first African elephant to reach modern Europe alive. He was born in East Africa, and captured there by Arabian hunters in early 1862. He was sold first to an Italian animal dealer, then to a menagerie in Germany, and then to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Officials of the Jardin traded him to the London Zoological Gardens for a rhinoceros. Jumbo lived in the London Zoo for about 16 years, where he delighted visitors by taking them on trips around the zoo grounds in the howdah on his back.

Jumbo was the biggest elephant in captivity. Due to this, American showman P. T. Barnum wanted Jumbo in his circus, eventually buying the elephant in 1882 for $10,000. Jumbo's sale initiated public outrage in Britain, and drew notice around the world. The British objected to the sale, and wrote letters to Queen Victoria urging that Jumbo remain in London. The courts ruled in Barnum's favor however, and the elephant was shipped to the United States. "Jumbomania", a fad for all things Jumbo, was born at this time. The civilized world was flooded with Jumbo neckties, jewelry, soaps, and other ornaments and souvenirs.

Jumbo debuted in the United States on Easter Sunday 1882 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. He toured with Barnum's circus for three years. In September 1885, Jumbo was killed in a railway accident in St Thomas, Ontario, Canada. His death was met with worldwide grief and sorrow.

Barnum sued the railway, but settled for much less than he asked because he needed the goodwill of the railway to move his circus around Canada. Many conspiracy theories sprang up after Jumbo's death. One accused Barnum of causing the elephant's death with a pistol shot to the animal's eye. This theory was proven false after an examination of Jumbo's skull.

Jumbo attracted as much attention after his death as he did in life. His hide was stuffed and his bones preserved. Both were displayed first with Barnum's circus, and then with museums. Jumbo was donated to the Barnum museum at Tufts University where it became the school mascot. His hide was destroyed in a fire at Tufts University in 1975. His skeleton was displayed for many years in the American Museum of Natural History, New York City. As time passed, people forgot who Jumbo was, and the skeleton was put away. Jumbo's greatest legacy is his name. In the English language, it means "huge" or, at least, "very large".

Early life

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It is not known exactly where or when Jumbo was born. It was likely East Africa near the Setit River around Christmas 1860. After his mother was killed by Arabian hunters, the infant Jumbo was captured by a Sudanese elephant hunter named Taher Sheriff. In February 1862, British explorer Samuel White Baker saw Jumbo in the desert camp of the Arabian hunters. This camp was on the border of eastern Sudan and Abyssinia (now, Eritrea). These hunters were under contract to Johan Schmidt, a Bavarian, to capture wild animals for sale and export to European zoos. Baker estimated that Jumbo was 4 feet (120 cm) tall and weighed about 500 pounds (230 kg). Based on his height and weight, Jumbo was about one year old.

Jumbo was in the camp about a month, and adjusted well. One day, the animals of the camp were arranged in a motley caravan. Some of the large animals, such as antelopes and camels, were tethered to their captors' horses; Jumbo and two juvenile rhinos were allowed to trot untethered alongside the caravan. The trek to animal agent Johan Schmidt in Kassala, an Egyptian-territory town on the eastern edge of the Sahara Desert, was begun. Schmidt's boss was an Italian animal dealer named Lorenzo Casanova. Casanova would be responsible for transporting the animals to Europe. The port of Suakin in the Sudan was 300 miles away. It was the closest port, and the one from which the animals had to be shipped. The caravan traveled only in the cooler temperatures of the night. The trek was slow, hot and dry.

Jumbo walked several hundred miles with the other wild animals in the caravan to the Red Sea. At the port of Suakin, the elephant was put aboard a steamship for the 500-mile journey to the port of Suez. This would be the most dangerous part of the voyage. It was thought the larger animals would perish of the suffocating heat in the ship's hold. While some animals died during the voyage, Jumbo survived. The ship traveled 200 miles north to the port of Alexandria. The animals were loaded aboard a boat and taken from Suez to Trieste.

At Trieste (then an Austrian port), Jumbo was loaded aboard a train. He passed through Vienna before deboarding at Casanova's headquarters in Dresden, in the Kingdom of Saxony. The entire caravan was sold to Gottlieb Kreutzberg, the Prussian owner of a large traveling menagerie. Jumbo was not long in the keeping of Kreutzberg however. He was sold to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris for a large but unknown sum. Abraham Bartlett, the superintendent of the London Zoo in Regent's Park had long been seeking an African elephant for the zoo's collection, but Jumbo's sale was transacted with little fanfare â€" leaving the London Zoo out of negotiations.

Jardin des Plantes

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In late 1862, Jumbo was sold to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Jumbo was probably brought to his new home in either late 1862 or early 1863. The French were disappointed with him; they thought he would be larger. Jumbo lived in the Rotunda for Large Herbivores with two Asian elephants, several camels and giraffes, and a hippopotamus.

In October 1863, two more baby African elephants and several camels were brought to the Rotunda. The little elephants were called Castor and Pollux. They played together and slept together. Children loved the new elephants, and the two came to be called "the pets of young Paris". Jumbo did not want attention from humans however; he stayed in his stable. Five elephants now lived in the Rotunda of the Jardin.

In April 1865, government officials thought the living conditions in the Jardin were deplorable. They wanted some of the elephants sent to zoos in other countries. The officials of the London Zoological Gardens in Regent's Park wanted an African elephant. They traded an Indian rhinoceros and a few other animals for Jumbo. He was brought to the London Zoo in June 1865. Jumbo was lucky. Castor and Pollux were killed about 1870 during a war with Prussia. They were eaten by the starving French.

London Zoological Gardens

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Jumbo's introduction to the zoo

Jumbo was ill when he arrived at the London Zoo. He had not been fed properly, and his hide was covered with filth that had to be scraped and scrubbed off. The nails on his feet were overgrown, and the soles of his feet were covered with sores.

Abraham Bartlett, the Superintendent of the London Zoological Gardens, put the elephant into the care of animal keeper Matthew "Scotty" Scott, a keeper with a talent for understanding and managing animals; Jumbo grew stronger and healthier under his care.

Jumbo's name

The elephant was named Jumbo. There is no record of the origin of this name. He may have been named after Mumbo Jumbo, a west African tribal holy man. This is not certain though. Bartlett may have named the elephant Jumbo because he liked the sound of the word. He had once named a gorilla Mumbo. There is a very slim possibility that Jumbo may have been named in Paris. Jumbo is possibly a variation of one of two Swahili words: jambo, which means "hello"; or jumbe, meaning "chief".

Royal favorite

Jumbo became a great attraction in the London Zoo. He was a zoo favorite with Queen Victoria and members of the Royal Family. Children rode in the saddle (howdah) on his back for a penny. The young Winston Churchill (and probably Queen Victoria's children Prince Leopold and Princess Beatrice) rode in Jumbo's howdah.

Alice, Jumbo's "wife"

A few weeks after the London Zoo's acquisition of Jumbo, another African elephant came on the market. She was a healthy, one-year-old calf from Sudan. She was shipped by Casanova to Germany and sold to London animal dealer Charles Rice. Jumbo was suffering at this time from a fever. Zoo officials thought he might die. The purchase of the cow would assure the zoo that they would have at least one African elephant in the collection. If Jumbo survived, the possibility of mating the two elephants would be an unforeseen bonus.

On 9 September 1865, the cow was purchased from Rice and led through the London streets to the London Zoo. Bartlett named her Alice, probably after a character in the current bestseller, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Scotty would tend both Jumbo and Alice. He was promoted to full-time keeper of the African elephants. He claimed Jumbo fell in love at first sight with Alice, although it would be years before either elephant was sexually mature. Nonetheless, Bartlett advertised Alice as "Jumbo's wife". Scotty formed a deep bond with both elephants, so much so that Bartlett worried about difficulties ahead.

Training course

In early 1866, Jumbo began a training course with Scotty so he could be walked over the zoo paths without incident. These little jaunts were successful. As summer approached, Jumbo quickly became accustomed to crowds. Scotty even led him outside the zoo to London's West End and the Thames. Here, Jumbo would bathe and play, shooting jets of water over Scotty. On his first anniversary with the London Zoo, Jumbo was critiqued by the keepers. The elephant was moody, and only happy in his outside pen or walking about through the crowds. His stable appeared to cause him anxiety, and he would react with rages. Several times he damaged the doors to the Elephant House by trying to break through.

Jumbo gives rides to visitors

In late summer 1866, Bartlett decided that Jumbo was tame enough to give visitors rides around the zoo grounds â€" in spite of his moodiness and tantrums. A saddle was built by Scotty, and a ride cost a penny. Scotty was permitted to pocket the fares, and thus amassed a small fortune over the years. Bartlett came to regret his decision. Scotty jealously guarded his control over the proceeds and over Jumbo â€" so much so that the keeper worked his days off and vacation times.

Daily life

By the time Jumbo was seven years old, he had a huge appetite. Every day he ate 200 pounds (91 kg) of hay, a barrel of potatoes, two bushels of oats, fifteen loaves of bread, and lots of onions. He also drank several pails of water. If Scotty thought Jumbo was ailing, the elephant was given a gallon or two of whiskey.

In 1882, Jumbo was 12 feet (3.7 m) tall at the shoulder. He weighed more than 12,000 pounds (5,400 kg). His trunk was 7 feet (2.1 m) long. It could reach high into the trees. In the magazine Harper's Weekly, Jumbo was said to be "as gentle with children as the best-trained poodle dog." The magazine noted that Jumbo gently took biscuits and lumps of sugar from zoo visitors.

Damaged tusks

In 1880, Jumbo hit his iron cage doors with his tusks and broke both off near the jawbone. He was in pain. He stopped eating, and leaned against the walls for support. Bartlett and Scotty were forced to perform some crude surgery on the pus-filled abscesses with a harpoon-like tool they had fashioned. Jumbo recovered.

Bartlett was disappointed with the damage to Jumbo's tusks. He had been hoping that Jumbo would grow to be a "tusker" â€" an elephant with huge tusks. After the surgery, Jumbo kept his tusks worn away by rubbing them against the walls of the Elephant House. They never grew more than a few inches long.

Jumbo is sold

Bartlett considers selling Jumbo

When Jumbo was brought to the zoo in 1865, Bartlett had wanted to raise the elephant himself. He needed a keeper though who would obey him, and chose Scotty because he was rather inexperienced. Bartlett would be disappointed. Scotty had his own opinion on how to raise Jumbo. Bartlett despised the close relationship that grew between the keeper and the elephant. In 1882, Jumbo was the biggest elephant living in captivity.

Bartlett thought it best to find a new home for Jumbo for two reasons. First, he thought Jumbo was about to enter musth, a difficult time in a male elephant's life. Certain glands in the elephant's head become inflamed, causing the animal to behave violently. The other reason Bartlett wanted to get rid of Jumbo was the elephant's close relationship with Scotty. Bartlett thought Jumbo might go on a dangerous rampage if Scotty should die.

Jumbo's tantrums

Jumbo had tantrums. He would try to damage the Elephant House at night. He may have been frightened and angry because Scotty went home every night. He was only calm during the day when Scotty was nearby or when he carried children around the zoo in his howdah. Jumbo's behavior only made Bartlett more sure that he must find another home for the elephant. Years after Jumbo's death, zoologists studied casts of the elephant's teeth. They discovered that his molars were erupting abnormally and probably causing him pain. This, they posit, was likely the reason for Jumbo's tantrums.

Barnum offers to buy Jumbo

Bartlett and members of the London Zoological Society were delighted when P. T. Barnum, a circus showman from the United States, offered to buy Jumbo for $10,000 ($244 thousand today). Barnum had once owned two museums in New York City, but these had burned to the ground. He was now part-owner of the Barnum, Bailey, & Hutchinson Circus. Barnum knew the huge elephant would make him a fortune if he appeared in his circus.

Barnum's partner Hutchinson did not want to buy Jumbo. "What difference does it make if an elephant is seven feet high or eleven or twelve feet high? An elephant is an elephant!" he growled. But Barnum wanted Jumbo more than he wanted any other elephant in the world because Jumbo was the biggest elephant in the world. Bartlett and the London Zoological Society took only two days to decide that Jumbo would be sold to Barnum.

When the British learned that Jumbo was going to be sold, they were outraged. Bartlett received many angry letters. Children begged Bartlett to keep Jumbo in London. Art critic John Ruskin wrote that the English were not "in the habit of selling their pets." An effort was made to stop the sale by going to court, but Barnum won. The British courts ruled that he was the legal owner of Jumbo.

Shipping logistics

A large crate with wheels was built to hold Jumbo during his journey to America. It was made of heavy pine boards bolted to a strong oak base, and made even stronger with iron straps. It measured 14 feet (4.3 m) long, 8 feet (2.4 m) wide, and 12 feet (3.7 m) high. It was large enough for Jumbo to stand in it, but not large enough for him to lie down or turn around. Although the ends of the crate were open, they were made strong with iron bars. Jumbo could look out the open end and swing his trunk.

Jumbo refuses to move

Plans were made to move Jumbo on February 18, but Jumbo would not get into the crate. A second attempt was made on February 19 with the same result. Jumbo laid down in the street. Crowds of people gathered and cheered for Jumbo. He stayed in the street for a week. Bill Newman, Barnum's agent in London, sent the showman a telegram. "Jumbo won't get up", it read. Barnum sent a telegram back ordering Newman to "Let him stay there as long as he wants. It's great publicity."

Bartlett thought Scotty was controlling Jumbo with a secret signal to keep him from getting into the crate. He told Scotty he would be fired if Jumbo did not get into the crate. The next day, Scotty got Jumbo to enter the crate. Barnum hired Scotty to tend Jumbo, even though the showman had many elephant keepers in the United States.


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People around the world took an interest in the fate of Jumbo. Souvenirs such as Jumbo neckties, fans, and hats were sold in England and America. Jumbo's picture was printed on thousands of advertisements. Some of these advertisements depicted Jumbo in odd (for him) places like an opera house or a saloon in the Wild West.

Potholders, cigars, and a large sewing machine were all named after Jumbo. Soap, thread, and baking powder were sold using Jumbo's name. One advertisement from this time shows Jumbo in leather boots running across a desert. Another picture shows Jumbo feeding a baby elephant a laxative called Castoria.

Thousands of letters were sent to London Zoo officials. The writers wanted Jumbo to live peacefully in England. A "Jumbo Retention Fund" was set up to keep Jumbo in the London Zoo. One lady sent her new sewing machine to the fund. A bride sent Jumbo a piece of her wedding cake. Thousands of children wrote to Barnum begging him to leave Jumbo in his London home. Barnum refused.

Jumbo leaves England

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Jumbo lived sixteen years and nine months in the London Zoo. His trip to America began on the cold morning of March 22, 1882. Jumbo was put into a harness early in the morning, and led to the crate. He balked at getting into it, but he finally did. It took two hours to chain the struggling elephant inside the crate.

Six horses pulled the crate from the yard at the Elephant House, but it sank into the soft soil of a path. Three hours were needed to pull the crate from the path. It sank into soft soil two more times on its way to the zoo gates. Four more horses were harnessed to the crate. It passed through the main gate about 1:30 a.m. The five-mile trip to the London docks had begun.

The most level way to the Thames River was chosen because the horses could not pull the crate uphill. Crowds gathered to watch. Scotty rode on the front of the crate, comforting Jumbo by stroking his trunk. Jumbo was quiet through most of the journey. The crate started down a steep hill near the old Clerkenwell House of Detention at the top of Farrington Road. Jumbo shook his head in alarm. The crate was forced to move very slowly.

At St Katharine Docks, east of the Tower of London, the crate was lifted with a winch at 7 a.m. on March 23. It was put on the barge Clarence, and workers secured the crate. Jumbo was given a big breakfast. An old lady who had walked behind the crate all the way from Regent's Park brought Jumbo some beer. She said good-bye through her tears.


Three hours later, the tide was favorable. The barge was towed into the river by tugboats bearing the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes. Thousands of people had gathered in every empty space to say good-bye to Jumbo. The barge floated downstream to the Isle of Dogs.

Jumbo took alarm again when the barge passed Dundee Docks. He rammed the bars of his crate. The bars were loosened so the engines were cut. Scotty comforted the frightened elephant. The trip was resumed. At the Millwall Docks, the crate was lifted by crane about 3:45 p.m. to the quayside. It was here that Jumbo would spend the night.

The crate was weighed as it was lifted. It weighed twelve and a half tons. It was known that the wood and iron of the box weighed six and a half tons. Jumbo therefore weighed six tons. Scotty and Bartlett had always thought Jumbo weighed six tons, but this was the first time Jumbo had actually been weighed mechanically. On Friday March 24, it took only eight minutes to lower Jumbo and his crate to the Assyrian Monarch.

Assyrian Monarch

There were 600 passengers on the Assyrian Monarch. They were mostly Russian Jews going to the United States. There were 90 crew members. Food was brought on the ship for Jumbo's 13â€"14 day voyage. There were 65 bales of hay, 300 pounds (140 kg) of ship's biscuits, 50 loaves of white bread, three sacks of oats, three sacks of bran, and two sacks of onions.

A lunch party was held on the ship for London Zoo officials, the Sheriff of London, businessmen, Barnum's agents, and others interested in the adventure. Barnum's agent Bill Newman was given the Zoological Society's Gold Medal for calmly and skillfully handling Jumbo. Scotty â€" the man who had given Jumbo devoted care and love for 18 years â€" was ignored. The ship embarked the next morning. Lady Angela Burdett-Coutts was Jumbo's great friend. She came from London to Gravesend with friends to feed the elephant his last English buns.

At sea

Scotty removed most of Jumbo's chains to make him comfortable. His head, body, and trunk were free. His feet were chained. The elephant leaned against the side of the crate. He fell asleep for the first time in several days.

Jumbo's crate got plenty of fresh air. Passengers fed him bread and fruit. Barnum had news stories about Jumbo put into rubber bags then dropped into the sea. Weeks later, the first bag washed ashore in southern Ireland. A telegram was sent to London after passing the last point of British soil called the Lizard. It read, "Jumbo well; very quiet; unchained."

Jumbo arrives in America

After almost two weeks at sea, the Assyrian Monarch arrived in New York harbor about midnight on Easter Sunday April 9, 1882. A telegram was sent to the London Times informing the British that Jumbo had arrived safely in America and that the elephant was in good health. Jumbo's crate was lifted from the hold of the Assyrian Monarch to a small steamer called Only Son. Jumbo was ferried across the Hudson River to the New York docks.

Barnum and his partners James Anthony Bailey and Hutchinson went aboard the Only Son with several journalists to see Jumbo. The elephant had traveled well. The elephant was given a bottle of whiskey. Barnum did not drink alcoholic beverages and protested. He looked at Scotty and said, "I do believe that elephant's growth has been stunted by the use of beer."

Some journalists were disappointed with Jumbo's height. They said he was just as big as the other elephants in Barnum's circus. Barnum told them there was a big difference between an elephant's actual height and his "museum" height. The journalists were satisfied with this bizarre explanation. Barnum was thrilled with Jumbo. Everyone was talking about Jumbo, and this meant ticket sales.

Superintendent Hatfield of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children came aboard the Only Son. He had heard reports of Jumbo's bad temper, and boarded the ship to be certain Jumbo was not a threat to the children of New York City. Barnum told him Jumbo was "perfectly lamb-like". Hatfield took a long look at Jumbo, then left the ship with the sense that Jumbo was indeed a gentle animal.

Hundreds of people had gathered on shore to welcome Jumbo. By late afternoon, the crowd had grown to 10,000 impatient, noisy onlookers. Jumbo became frightened. His crate swayed as it was lifted and lowered to a waiting barge. Three cheers were raised. By 7:00 p.m., Jumbo was ashore. His crate had been put on a strong wagon.

The crowd wanted Jumbo to walk up Broadway to Madison Square Garden where the circus was playing. Bailey would not allow it, fearing the animal might attack the crowd. Eight horses and 500 men could not move the wagon. Another eight horses were brought in as well as Gypsy and Chief, two Asian elephants from the circus. The eight additional horses were not needed. They were led behind the wagon as it started to move. The elephants were used as needed to push the wagon out of ruts.

When the procession arrived at Madison Square Garden, Jumbo's crate was too tall for the building's entrance. He was left on the sidewalk for the night, his crate covered with tarpaulins. In the morning, blacksmiths removed the iron bars of the crate. Jumbo was free, but he would not leave the crate. Scotty stood aside to let Jumbo take his time. The elephant finally stepped out, and went into the building. Floorboards shattered under his weight. When he reached the race track, he knelt and rolled over. Scotty assured everyone that Jumbo was not dead but only resting after his long trip. The elephant finally rose and was taken to his stall, after another rest period. Once in his stall, a heavy chain fastened to a stake was wrapped around his leg. He yanked the stake from the ground and tossed it aside. Meanwhile, one of the largest crowds in circus history was waiting for the afternoon performance to begin.

Jumbo in America

Barnum bought Jumbo for $10,000. Jumbo's entire costs actually amounted to $30,000. Barnum later wrote that Jumbo earned his costs in his first two weeks with the circus at Madison Square Garden. Jumbo did no tricks, but 20,000 circus-goers per day saw him in the circus zoo and the parade at the start of the show. The London Zoo had sent Jumbo's howdah to America, and, with it, the great elephant gave rides to circus-goers as he had done at the London Zoo.

On a trip to England in late May 1882, Barnum met a crowd of children on the street who were still angry that Jumbo had been taken away. Barnum made plans the same month to raise an iron building on the Thames Embankment for his circuses. People in the neighborhood did not like the idea. They said they would go to court to stop the plan. Barnum dropped the idea.

Barnum had another publicity idea. The Brooklyn Bridge was finished in 1883. This was a long-awaited and exciting event. Barnum offered the bridge company $5,000 to allow Jumbo to cross the bridge before the official opening. The company directors believed Barnum was using the bridge for circus publicity. They declined his offer.

Jumbo traveled in luxury when he went on tour every year. He had his own railway boxcar. Barnum called it "Jumbo's Palace Car". It was a red and gold boxcar with huge double doors at the center for Jumbo to be able to enter and leave easily. Scotty slept in a bunk in a little room near Jumbo's head. Jumbo would never let Scotty close the door to the little room.

Scotty and Jumbo always shared a bottle of beer before going to bed for the night. It was a little ritual Jumbo loved. One night, Scotty drank the bottle of beer and fell asleep. Jumbo picked him up very carefully and set him down near the empty bottle. Scotty woke up and found the bottle. He "got the message". He never forgot to share a bottle of beer with Jumbo again.

In his four seasons as the top star of Barnum's circus, Jumbo never hurt anyone. Now and then though, he tested his strength by destroying parts of his winter Elephant House. Jumbo earned $1.5 million in his first year with the circus. It is likely 16 million adults and 4 million children saw him at the circus.

In his last years with the circus, Jumbo's health grew poor. He could not eat his food because his teeth were worn out. There was no treatment. Jumbo would sooner or later die of starvation. Barnum made plans to have Jumbo preserved after his death by a taxidermist. He arranged everything while Jumbo was still alive â€" just in case the elephant died suddenly.

Jumbo's death

Jumbo was 24 when he was killed on September 15, 1885, in the rail yards at St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada. It was about 9:30 p.m. The circus had just finished a performance. The elephants were being led along the main track in the rail yards to their boxcars. To their left was a steep bank; to their right was the circus train. An unscheduled freight train roared down upon them from the east. The engineer tried to stop the train, but failed.

Animal keepers got most of the elephants to safety down the bank. Jumbo and a dwarf elephant called Tom Thumb were the last act on the circus programme and the last to leave the Big Top. Tom Thumb was behind Jumbo. The little elephant was hit by the train and thrown into a ditch. His left leg was broken, but he lived. Jumbo ran down the track away from the oncoming train with Scotty beside him. The locomotive struck Jumbo from behind. He roared in pain as the train carried him 300 feet (91 m) down the track. He was wedged partly above and partly below a flatcar.

Jumbo's skull was fractured in several places. He had serious internal injuries. Blood poured from his mouth and trunk. Jumbo reached for and held Scotty's hand with his trunk. He died within minutes of the accident. The locomotive and the tender were thrown off the track. They were destroyed in the collision.

Neither Barnum nor Bailey was on the scene of the accident. Hutchinson directed the cleanup. One hundred men were needed to remove Jumbo's body from the tracks. Policemen were sent to the scene to drive away souvenir hunters. Scotty became hysterical when he discovered half of Jumbo's ear had been cut off by a collector.

Taxidermists from Rochester, New York, eventually arrived to take charge of the body. Jumbo's death was a serious loss for the circus, so much so that Barnum took the first steps in bankruptcy proceedings a few days after the accident.

Just before Jumbo's trip to America in 1882, Barnum had insured the elephant for $500,000. The policy expired once Jumbo stepped on American soil. He had been brought into the United States as "breeding stock". No insurance company would cover livestock for accidents, so the elephant was not insured at the time of his death.

Jumbo left no children â€" in spite of the fact that he had an elephant "wife" in the London Zoo named Alice. He had completely ignored her during the 16 years he had called London home. Keepers gave Alice black to wear and a widow's cap after the death of her "husband".

Barnum sues the railway

Barnum sued the Canadian Grand Trunk Railway for $100,000. The case was heard in April 1887. The company claimed it was not liable for Jumbo's death, suggesting instead that the circus workers were responsible. The circus workers had cut down part of a fence so they could lead the elephants across the track. If they had used the regular crossing further down the track, the company argued, railway workers would have warned them of the approaching train. The accident could have been avoided.

The railway also claimed Jumbo was worthless. The London Zoo had sold him, the railway stated, because he was a dangerous animal. They also pointed out that they were not liable for losses above $15,000 â€" as stipulated in their contract with the circus. The circus argued the contract was illegal, and presented statements from Scotty and other professional animal handlers who had worked with Jumbo. These statements declared Jumbo was not dangerous.

Barnum finally withdrew the lawsuit. He needed the good will of the Grand Trunk Railway if he wanted to move his circus around Canada. He settled out of court for $5,000. He was also granted the right to use the Grand Trunk rails for free in the coming year. This was worth $5,000 in itself. Barnum left court with $10,000.

Conspiracy theories

Two weeks after Jumbo's death, a news reporter named C. F. Richtel of the Hartford, Connecticut, Sunday Globe suggested Barnum had killed the elephant "for advertising purposes". Richtel was an old enemy of Barnum's, and accused the showman of masterminding Jumbo's death because the elephant had tuberculosis. Barnum sued the newspaper for $50,000. He settled out of court. The editor of the Sunday Globe learned the truth about Jumbo's death when he interviewed Scotty and others who had been present when the elephant died. The editor fired Richtel and published a meek apology to Barnum.

A theory put forth in 1960 alleged that Jumbo's flatulence had created a nasty problem for Barnum and the circus, so the showman decided to get rid of the elephant. Under cover of darkness and amid the clamor of the rail yard, Barnum was said to have had an animal keeper fire a single shot from a powerful pistol into Jumbo's eye. The elephant staggered some distance, trampled the dwarf elephant, collapsed, and died beneath a railway car. No projectiles were found during examinations of Jumbo after his death or later examinations of his skull. The theory has been proven false.


Barnum tried to milk as much publicity as possible from Jumbo's death. He called a publisher three days after the accident to suggest that a children's book be published at Christmas about the event. He also lied to journalists about Jumbo saving both the dwarf elephant and Scotty, then turning to face the train alone and head-on. Jumbo's remains were sent far and wide across America. His tusks were broken into many pieces in the accident and sold as souvenirs. Cornell University bought Jumbo's heart. The great elephant's bones toured America for a few years with the circus. They weighed 2,400 pounds (1,100 kg). Then they were sent to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. His skeleton was put on display now and then. As time passed though, people forgot who Jumbo was. The skeleton was put away, but displayed again in 1977 and 1993.

Jumbo's hide was stuffed in Rochester, New York. Barnum told the taxidermists that he wanted Jumbo to look like a mountain. They pulled the hide as much as possible without tearing it. After all the hard work, Jumbo stood a foot taller in death than he had in life. The stuffed hide toured with the circus for a few years. Barnum had made a promise to the Smithsonian Institution that either the skin or skeleton would be gifted on the death of Jumbo but this did not happen and the stuffed Jumbo was finally gifted to the Barnum Museum of Natural History at Tufts University. Barnum was a founding trustee of the university. It weighed 1,538 pounds (698 kg). At Tufts, Jumbo became the school mascot. His picture was put on school-related items like caps and pennants. A superstition held that dropping a coin into a nostril of the trunk would bring good luck on an examination or a sports event.

On April 14, 1975, Jumbo's hide and many other museum pieces which could never be replaced were destroyed in a fire at Tufts. Some of what was believed to be Jumbo's ashes was put in a Peter Pan Crunchy Peanut Butter jar. The jar was kept in the university's athletic department. School athletes rubbed it for good luck before games.

On the 100th anniversary of Jumbo's death in 1985, a monument by Winston Bronnum was built to the elephant in St. Thomas. It stands on a bluff above the city. Not far away is a bright red caboose that serves as a souvenir stand. There is also a museum at the site that displays a scale model of a miniature circus.


Jumbo's name may be his greatest legacy. Before the big elephant, the word 'Jumbo' was not known in the English language. The word has entered the language to mean anything that is huge. Jumbo's enormous size caused scientists to think he was a separate species of elephant. He was the largest elephant ever known. He was named the type specimen for this new species. At a later time, it was learned that Jumbo was not a separate species, but a variant of a known species. He was reduced to the status of subspecies.

After Jumbo's death, he was dissected by scientists. It was important that his skeleton be carefully preserved for future scientists to study. The dissection was started in St. Thomas, and completed in Rochester, New York. Jumbo's stomach was cut open. Coins, keys, rivets, screws, and a policeman's whistle fell out. His taxidermied tail is kept in the holdings of the Tufts Digital Collections and Archives.

A life-size statue of the elephant was erected in 1985 in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada to commemorate the centennial of the elephant's death. It is located on Talbot Street on the west side of the city. Railway City Brewing Company in St. Thomas brews "Dead Elephant Ale," an IPA, in recognition of Jumbo's connection to St. Thomas's railway history. In 2006, the Jumbo statue was inducted into the North America Railway Hall of Fame in the category of "Railway Art Forms & Events" as having local significance.

Just before the stuffed Jumbo and his skeleton were put on display, Barnum invited journalists and high-society ladies to a party in a fancy hotel. He made speeches, then served his guests a gelatin dish made from Jumbo's ground tusks.

See also

  • The Greatest Show on Earth: A movie based on the story of the Barnum and Bailey Circus.
  • History of elephants in Europe
  • List of historical elephants



  • Barnum, Phineas Taylor (1889), The Wild Beasts, Birds and Reptiles of the World: The Story of Their Capture, R. S. Peale & Company 
  • Bondeson, Jan (1999), The Feejeee Mermaid and Other Eassays in Natural and Unnatural History, Cornell University Press, ISBN 0-8014-3609-5 
  • Chambers, Paul (2008), Jumbo: This Being the True Story of the Greatest Elephant in the World, Steerforth Press 
  • Culhane, John (1990), The American Circus: An Illustrated History, Henry Holt and Company, Inc., ISBN 0-8050-0424-6 
  • Haley, James L. (August 1973), "The Colossus Of His Kind: Jumbo", American Heritage 24 (5) 
  • Harding, Les (2000), Elephant Story: Jumbo and P. T. Barnum Under the Big Top, McFarland, ISBN 978-0-7864-0632-6 
  • Kotar, S. L.; Gessler, J. E. (2011), The Rise of the American Circus, 1716â€"1899, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, ISBN 978-0-7864-6159-2 
  • MacDonald, Cheryl (2009), Celebrated Pets: Endearing Tales of Companionship and Loyalty, Heritage House Publishing Co., ISBN 978-1-894974-81-3 
  • New York Times. 16 September 1885. Great Jumbo Killed ...
  • Ogden, Tom (1993), Two Hundred Years of the American Circus: From Abba-Daba to the Zoppe-Zavatta Troupe, Facts On File, Inc., ISBN 0-8160-2611-4 
  • Preston, Douglas J. (1986), Dinosaurs in the Attic: An Excursion Into the American Museum of Natural History, Macmillan, ISBN 0-312-21098-1 
  • Saxon, A. H. (1989), P. T. Barnum: The Legend and the Man, Columbia University Press, ISBN 0-231-05686-9 
  • Wilson, Susan (2002), "An Elephant's Tale", Tufts Magazine, Spring 
  • Scott, Matthew (1885). The autobiography of Matthew Scott and his biography of P.T. Barnum's great elephant Jumbo. ISBN 978-1-480-10798-4. 

External links

  • 1942 photo of the 'stuffed' Jumbo at the Barnum Museum
  • Jumbo Images from the PT Barnum Collection at Tufts University
  • The Story of Jumbo's Death
  • Jumbo memorial in St. Thomas, ON, Canada
  • Jumbo in typical trade card advertising.
  • The North America Railway Hall of Fame

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