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Jumbo the Elephant – The “pride” of St. Thomas

December 2019

Statues are a common way to commemorate notable people and animals throughout history, and many cities and towns feature an assortment of them. St. Thomas, Ontario, has a statue with an unfortunate significance for the southwestern Ontario town: Jumbo the Elephant.

In a time before television or even motion pictures became avenues of entertainment for people, going to the circus was a popular way to spend an afternoon or evening with your family.

A big feature of these circuses were the animals who performed a variety of tricks to thrill the crowds. Jumbo the Elephant was a popular attraction for the Barnum and Bailey Circus, operated by legendary American showman P.T. Barnum, in the late 1800s.

While modern-day circuses are housed in permanent arenas and performance theatres,

Jumbo the Elephant was an African bush elephant from Sudan whom Barnum purchased from the London Zoo in March 1882. Advertised as “the worlds’ largest elephant,” Jumbo was a feature attraction in the Barnum and Baily show until meeting an untimely end in St. Thomas. Prior to 1959, circus shows travelled from town to town, many by train, setting up their “big tent” to stage their shows.

On 15 September 1885, after completing their performance for the night, Jumbo and other animals were led to their box car at the rail yard in St. Thomas, when another train travelling down one of the tracks struck and fatally injured Jumbo.

Despite losing his life, Jumbo’s body was stuffed and external damage repaired by a taxidermist, allowing Jumbo to continue to serve as an attraction in Barnum’s show until 1889.

Jumbo’s skeleton was later donated to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the stuffed body was donated to Tufts University in Meaford, Massachusetts, where it remained in P.T. Barnum Hall as the university’s mascot until it was destroyed in a fire on 14 April 1975, along with other artifacts. The hall was rebuilt and re-opened a year later.

On 27 April 2015, forty years after the fire, a bronze statue of Jumbo was dedicated at the university as a replacement for what was lost. Jumbo’s ashes, along with what little remained of his skin and tail, are housed in the university archives.

The City of St. Thomas commemorated the 100th anniversary of Jumbo’s death, by erecting a life-size monument of the elephant on a hill overlooking Talbot Hill Road as it enters the western end of the city.

Sources: http://www.theelginmilitarymuseum.ca/jumbo.html, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumbo, https://www.railwaycitytourism.com/jumbo.html, https://allthatsinteresting.com/jumbo-the-elephant.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/jumbo-the-elephant-the-pride-of-st-thomas/

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