In November of 1942, Great American Circus was in Wabash, Indiana with its star performers: Judy, Empress, and Modoc, three Indian Elephants.
It was a big affair. The circus was there as part of an annual military fundraiser at Wabash High School, but the circus owner predicted it would be the last performance for years to come because so many circus hands were headed off to war. Everyone, Wabashians and circus performers alike, was ready and excited for the show.
Outside the high school gymnasium, the elephants stood chained up. All was well until neighborhood dogs began barking at the elephants. Terrified, they broke loose from their chains and ran for the hills. Judy and Empress merely escaped to the nearby woods, but Modoc made a break for it and headed toward the center of town.
Mrs. Chauncey Kessler was entering the Bradley Brothers Drug Store when she saw a 1,900-pound pachyderm barreling towards her (allegedly attracted by the woman’s striped muskrat coat). Kessler ducked into the drugstore, but Modoc followed, squeezing through the front door of the corner shop. Once inside, the elephant knocked over the peanut roaster, snarfed a couple of the treats, rolled Mrs. Kessler around on the floor, and then promptly exited through the back door, smashing the frame and knocking over displays, all while the soda jerk screamed from her station behind the counter.
Modoc traveled across rural Wabash and Huntington counties, while reports of elephant tracks and crushed fences trickled in from farmers across the area. She was finally captured after five days of chase. An elephant trainer brought in especially for the job used 26 loaves of bread like dog treats to lure the starving and dehydrated elephant back to captivity. There she was treated to whiskey and much fanfare to celebrate her return.
There’s little information about Modoc’s great escape, and much that exists is likely hyperbole. The story ran in newspapers across the country for a week before petering out, but it remains an important part of Wabash lore. Today a nostalgic general store named after Modoc stands in the same spot as the Bradley Brothers Drug Store, where fugitive elephant once caused havoc.