JUMBO - BACK FROM THE DEAD!!
copyright 1999 Mark Bellis
ST THOMAS, SEPT 23, 1995 - 110 years ago they had him for supper. Now they want the leftovers.
The people of St. Thomas want a New York museum to loan them the bones of Jumbo, the elephant whose name became a synonym for 'gigantic',who died tragically in their town Sept 15, 1885.
Jumbo is "a tremendous drawing card" said St. Thomas mayor Steve Peters, standing near the life-size thirty-eight ton concrete statue of the 11 foot 6 inch elephant, which is an all-but-unignorable landmark in St. Thomas, a city of 28,000 south of London.
Peters explains that St. Thomas, an important railway centre for traffic between Detroit and Buffalo in the 19th century, was hosting the Barnum and Bailey Circus on that faithful evening in September when Jumbo and a dwarf elephant named Tom Thumb were being led back to their railway car, when an "unscheduled train came down the tracks, hit the small elephant" and knocked him down the embankment, and then smashed into Jumbo, who died on the spot of his injuries, but not before he reached up with his trunk to embrace his keeper one last time.
Circus impresario P.T. Barnum quickly spun the story for big publicity, saying that Jumbo had died after he deliberately tossed Tom Thumb to safety and charged the train to protect his keeper.
Barnum brought Professor Ward, a famous Rochester taxidermist he had under contract, to St Thomas so quickly that some people thought that Barnum had arranged the accident to get rid of the 24 year old elephant, who was beginning to show his age, to grab headlines.
Jumbo was cut up on the spot by local butchers. Mayor Peters admits "some people did" grab the once-in-a-lifetime chance to try elephant steak. Barnum had the stuffed elephant and his skeleton tour with his circus until the bones were donated to the American Museum of Natural History. The stuffed elephant went to Tufts University in Boston where he served as mascot for the school's football team, the Tufts Jumbos, until a fire in 1975 which consumed all but an 18 inch sectionof his tail and parts of his tusks.
Mayor Peters travelled to Tufts recently and was allowed to take some fragments of blackened ivory back to St. Thomas. He presented the relics to Elgin County Pioneer Museum in St. Thomas this Friday. Deborah Herkimer, curator of the museum, has other Jumbo memorabilia on display, even items recovered from the pachyderm's stomach, including a small nickel-plated pig and a human tooth. The museum also has a photo of the train that killed Jumbo, which afterwards sported a statue of an elephant on the front as a memento.
"Barnum sued Grand Trunk" said Herkimer, who noted the jokes made about 'Grand Trunk', the name of the railroad which killed Jumbo, and elephants' trunks. Barnum won a year's free travel on the railway for his circus, but Herkimer said "Grand Trunk got him back" because they later charged him the equivalent to a year's travel for a detour trip he had to make, giving credence to the idea of some collusion between Barnum and the railroad.
Peters has written to the Museum of Natural History asking them to loan the bones of Jumbo for a local exhibition, but William J. Moynihan, the museum's director, said in a letter "Unfortunately, Jumbo is also a type specimen" still used for scientific study, and it is the museum's policy not to lend him out. Peters, undaunted, said he will continue to campaign for the return of Jumbo's remains.