“The animal… reached out his long trunk, wrapped it around the trainer and then drew him down to where that majestic head lay blood stained in the cinders. Scotty cried like a baby. Five minutes later, they lifted him from the lifeless body… That night Scotty laid down beside the body of his friend. At last exhausted from the strain, he fell asleep.”
In the middle of the night on April 14, 1975, an electrical fire broke out at Tufts University. By the time staff arrived in the morning, the building was reduced to ash, including the collection founded by the showman P.T. Barnum. One staff member came forward with a small jar and made a special request of the maintenance crew who were beginning to clean up the mess: would they please fill the jar with the ashes of Jumbo, Barnum’s circus elephant who had died in a train wreck nearly 100 years earlier.
Jumbo began his life in Africa in 1861, but quickly found a new home in the menagerie at Paris’ Jardin des Plantes. Four years later, he moved to the London Zoo where he grew to enormous size and quickly became a crowd favorite, known for his gentle demeanor and huge size. In 1882 P.T. Barnum came calling, and negotiated the sale of Jumbo over the protests of Londoners, and, allegedly, Queen Victoria herself.
Jumbo became the star of the newly formed Barnum & Bailey’s Circus, traveling the country for four years and raking in huge profits for the showmen.
On September 15, 1885 Jumbo’s career came to a sudden end at the relatively young elephant age of 25 (African elephants can live to be 60 years old). As the circus animals, including several elephants, were being loaded into a train car in St. Thomas, Ontario an unexpected freight train sped through the loading area. Although the driver attempted to stop, it was to no avail and engine met elephant in a collision that left Jumbo mortally wounded and the train derailed.
Jumbo’s longtime caretaker, known as Scotty, rushed to the dying animal’s side, where eyewitnesses reported that the elephant wrapped his trunk around his trainer as he expired.
Not one to waste time, Barnum had Jumbo’s remains sent off to be prepped for taxidermy the very next day. A year later the prepared remains - a stuffed skin and a separate articulated skeleton - were debuted at a gala at which the guests were allegedly served gelatin snacks made from Jumbo’s tusks.
After a tour of duty on the road, Jumbo’s stuffed remains came to rest at Tufts University, where Jumbo quickly became a beloved school mascot and a good luck symbol. Since the devastating fire in 1975, Tufts athletes touch the 14 oz. peanut butter jar that hold the remains of the great beast.
If you want to pay your respects, there is a memorial plaque and a statue of Jumbo in St. Thomas, Ontario, where he died.
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