How many times have we heard this American dream story: Born in a foreign country, discovered and made famous by PT Barnum, brought to America and experience meteoric rise in fame, become addicted to peanuts, killed by a locomotive. That’s exactly what happened to Jumbo the African Elephant who on this date in 1885 met his demise at the hands of a steam engine.
For most people, joining the circus means that something terrible happened along the way. For others born with horrific deformities, social skills limited to the sale of corn dogs or the inane ability to guess peoples weight, the circus is a career. African elephants, who in 1885 were being hunted into extinction for their highly prized ivory, life under the big top meant survival. Instead of being ran down by Sir Walter Pimplebottom and his tuba sized musket just to have your head displayed over the fireplace of his Yorkshire estate, elephants could enjoy life of humiliating circus work in relative safety.
Jumbo the Elephant, who’s mother was shot by Sir Pimplebottom and left an orphan at less than a year old, started his career in a German zoo after being rescued from the wilds of French Sudan. Quickly gaining notoriety for his docile nature as well as his size Jumbo was sold to the Paris Zoo and then transferred to the famous Royal Zoo in London. There he was discovered by P.T. Barnum, owner and operator of Barnum & Bailey Circus, who offered $100,000 for the animal, a godfather offer at the time.
Jumbo was an instant sensation upon his arrival in America even selling out Madison Square Garden. Crowds gathered to marvel at his size and paid premium fees for a chance to ride the gentle giant. The fame and fortune would not last. Only two years upon his arrival in the states the peanut loving leviathan’s days of feasting on a king’s ransom in peanuts ended when Jumbo inexplicable walked in front of an oncoming locomotive. P.T. Barnum himself claimed that Jumbo was attempting to save the life of a younger pygmy elephant named Tom Thumb, who also died, while others suggest that Jumbo was actually blind with cataracts at the time of his death. The truth may lie with the fact that Jumbo was a wild animal yearning to run free. His life of captivity had slowly strangled his will to live until the pachyderm simple decided to end his life of co-habitation with bearded women and pedophile clowns. Nah, Jumbo was just a dumb gigantic elephant. He was probably just on his way to jimmy tap Tom Thumb with his trunk.