It seems that we have lost our sense of wonder and amazement these days. One of my goals in writing this daily blog is to share stories, sometimes historical, and, almost always, dealing with some aspect of the African experience. And, if that blog contains elephants (one of my favorite animals)...well, that is just a bonus. One such account is the life of Jumbo the elephant.
His story begins like this, "Jumbo was born around Christmas 1860 in Sudan, and after his mother was killed by hunters, the infant Jumbo was captured by Sudanese elephant hunter Taher Sheriff and German big-game hunter Johann Schmidt. The calf was sold to Lorenzo Casanova, an Italian animal dealer and explorer. Casanova transported the animals that he had bought from Sudan north to Suez, and then across the Mediterranean Sea to Trieste.
This collection was sold to Gottlieb Christian Kreutzberg's "Menagerie Kreutzberg"in Germany. Soon after, the elephant was imported to France and kept in the Paris zoo Jardin des Plantes. In 1865, he was transferred to the London Zoo and arrived on 26 June. In the following years, Jumbo became a crowd favorite due to his size, and would give rides to children on his back, including those of Queen Victoria. London zookeeper association leader Anoshan Anathajeyasri gave Jumbo his name; it is likely a variation of one of two Swahili words: jambo, which means "hello"; or jumbe, meaning "chief". If Anathajeyasri was from India, he possibly named Jumbo after a gigantic rose-apple tree called jambu (which at that time would be transliterated as 'jumboo'), which grows on the mythical Mount Meru and whose fruits were said to be as large as elephants." - Wikipedia.
During his stay in London, Jumbo broke both of his tusks and when they regrew, he ground them down against the stonework of his enclosure. Jumbo's unease became aggression and London owner, Abraham Bartlett, in 1882 decided to sell Jumbo to avoid the potential of a public disaster. Enter Phineas T. Barnum, American entertainer and partner of Barnum & Bailey Circus. Against British opposition, Barnum purchased Jumbo at the price of $10,000. Jumbo's keeper, Matthew Scott, elected to stay on as keeper and travel to the United States with Barnum.
Barnum placed Jumbo on exhibition in New York at Madison Square Garden and within three weeks, he recouped the sum he paid for the animal. Largely due to his new main attraction, the circus raked in $1.75 million in their 31 week season. However, the September 15, 1885 performance in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada would put a stop, or, at least a pause, to that. Circus animals had completed their performances for the evening and were being led to their boxcars as the railroad was how circuses traveled in those days. As Jumbo crossed the track, he was hit and mortally wounded by a train locomotive travelling on that track. Jumbo died within minutes. A younger elephant, named Tom Thumb, was also hit, and received a broken leg.
Barnum's business sense and showmanship had the elephant separated to attract curious spectators from multiple locales. Jumbo's skeleton would tour with Barnum's circus before it was donated to the American Museum of Natural History, where it remains. His heart was sold to Cornell University. His stomach was examined to find metal objects such as English pennies, keys, rivets and a police whistle. His skin, which was said to weigh 1500 lbs., was stretched over a wooden skeleton. The mounted specimen toured with Barnum for two years before being donated to Tufts University, where it was destroyed in a fire in April of 1975.
Jumbo's named spawned the common word, "jumbo", meaning large in size. Because of this we now have jumbo shrimp, jumbo marshmallows and jumbotrons. His shoulder height at death was estimated at 10.6 feet, compared to the 13.1 feet claimed by P.T. Barnum. But, Jumbo, at death, was still growing, his final height could truly have been "Jumbo".
I was never a fan of the treatment that circus animals received (or receive). But, I do agree that we need to stand in awe of the incredible creature that is called the elephant. The intelligence and emotions these animals exhibit is far beyond our understanding.