Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Ephriam Thompson



Eph Thompson, an African-American, learned elephant training from Stewart Craven in the 1880's and remained many years with the Adam Forepaugh Show but due to the social climate of the times, was forced to remain in the background while Addie Forepaugh Jr. presented the acts.

He later became a sensation in Europe, as this drawing of his somer-salting elephant attests. Posted by Picasa

20 comments:

K.C said...

Mr. Woodcock,

would you know if Eph Thompson was his real name or possibly a stage name?
The reason I ask,is because I had read where he once was Forepaugh's
Bolivar's keeper,however I read in old newspaper accounts from around early 1880's that Bolivar's keeper was Prof. Fred Johnson,who rode along side the elephant on a horse with a long spear.
Fred Johnson helped deliver Bolivar9chained to "Old Jennie) to the Philadelphia zoo on Christmas Day 1888.

Anonymous said...

I believe I read somewhere where George Conklin(also an apprentice of Stewert Craven)had a somersaulting elephant in his act.
How does an elephant really somersault?Or does it just roll on its side?

Buckles said...

As it was explained to me, the elephant would do a headstand at the top of a ramp, as seen in the picture and then be tipped over by hand.
The ramp had a padded curb on each side allowing the elephant to complete a forward folling somersalt.

Jim A. said...

Never saw it (because maybe it never happened) but didn't Smokey attempt a somersaulting elephant with Tika? I heard of rigging with ropes on both sides but never her how the trick started out.

J C Hall said...

I believe Smokey mentioned once that he had or was going to attempt this forward feat with a male punk that went by the name of Onyx, one of the Mighty Mites.

Dick Flint said...

As you know, Thompson began with Forepaugh and trained the boxing elephant John L. Sullivan. At least one newspaper account reported that a single glove was fitted to the elephant’s trunk while Thompson (who was specifically named) donned a pair of gloves to duke it out in the ring. In 1885 Thompson went to Europe and trained a group of 6 elephants for Hagenbeck. He then appeared with Circus Amato, Renz, and Oscar Carré, among others, in 1885-87. However, it is known that the owner of the six elephants at this time was Leo von Weste (1844-1926) a horse trainer and high school rider who sometimes presented the act; later, this group became seven elephants. I have no record of Thompson for several years beginning in 1888 (some say he was again with Forepaugh) but during this period he probably married the female jockey rider Dolinda de la Plata. He reappears in November 1891 when he and 7 elephants are on Circus Alegria in Barcelona. From this point on, Thompson appears regularly in virtually every European city at all the great circuses though by 1895 his act is composed of three elephants. In the late 1890s he is also appearing at the big variety theatres of Europe including the Berlin Wintergarten (Nov-Dec 1897) and the Folies Bergère (late 1899). At the Carré Building in Amsterdam in Nov 1900 he has 5 elephants but by the summer of 1904 when he is with Circus Beketow in Copenhagen he shows with 4 elephants. By 1903 he is featuring his famous somersaulting elephant Mary. Thompson is back in the USA by early September 1905 for a New York City engagement at Oscar Hammerstein’s Victoria Theatre followed by a tour on the Proctor vaudeville circuit. Early in June 1906 he is in Ypsilanti, Michigan, for an appearance at the local opera house and is welcomed as the Ypsilanti boy who ran away to become one of the world’s most famous elephant trainers. After a stay at Chicago’s White City amusement park in June 1906, he returns to Hammerstien's Victoria Theatre by November. By 1908, he is back in Europe. I have an 1895 German book with his portrait showing him in costume, which I can scan and send if interested. Also, the image you show of the somersaulting elephant is from a poster for Thompson’s act, one of a number of posters for his act that I know of.
Dick Flint
Baltimore

Anonymous said...

My Great Grandfathers name was Ephraim Thompson.In the New York Times(Dec26th)story of Bolivar's delivery to the Zoo on Xmas day 1888. The story includes the following "Bolivar traveled to his new home in great state. Adam Forepaugh.jr attended him in a carraige...keeper Johnson a colored groom and two escorting elephants completed the party.Bolivar died in Aug 1908 and the story appeared in the Philadelphia North American North. 1908. "Old Trainer in hospital...it is a curious coincidence that the only man whom Bolivar acknowledged as a real master is lying prostrate in Presbyterian hospital battling with the white plague(tb) that master is Eph Thompson, a Giant colored man who was for many years the head elephant keeper for Adam Forepaugh circus..that mastery was one of affection, not fear.

rebecca said...

Wonderful comment! It still amazes me how many stories are out there just waiting to be told. The wonderful world of circus animals and humans can be told to so many who have no idea what a wonderful life it was. Reading about it from people who really know what they are talking about makes it happen.

K.C said...

Another of one of Eph Thompson's elephants of his herd of 1906 was"Johnnie"the Original soldier Boy"
They played the Hippodrome in New York City.
As to what became of his famous herd of acrobatic and comedy elephants later,I wonder if at some point some were sold to
Frank Bostock?
A few Years later the Mighty Haag show advetised"Major",the
somer-saulting elephant"
Presumably this would be the same Major that ended his career(via a high powered bullet) with the Cole Bros. Show in Rochester Indiana.

Anonymous said...

I believe I also read where
George Arstingstall had been a student of Stewart Craven's.
An act with both had with their different elephant herds, had been the old Barber shop routine.
Curiosly you dont ever hear much as to what George Arstingstall did,with elephants when he went to Europe for a few years in the late 1880's?
I think he was fired from Barnum&London forfor allowing Jumbo to get hit by the train in Canada in September 1885.

Anonymous said...

maybe the elephant was in some type of wheel device to roll like that?

Anonymous said...

Actually Im not sure if
George Conklin had an elephant that did a somersault.(I'll have to read his book
The WAYS OF THE CIRCUS, again.
So perhaps Eph Thompson's
"Mary"
may have been the first?
btw
the Mighty Haag's"Major"\the worlds Only Somersult elephant"
performed that act in 1910-1911.
I imagine a young elephant could only do that.

Anonymous said...

there is what appears to be a news paper clipping showing Eph with Mary doing a sumersault at the Hippodrome de L'Alma in Paris. Can not make out if it is genuine or not.

Anonymous said...

In 1887 Eph was performing with Carl Hagenbeck's International Circus April-Sept. He married Dolinda de la Plata nee Roba in 1887 ang had a son in 1889 named Leo. In 1902 he perfomed at the Blackpool Tower Circus in England.1906 Orpheum Brooklyn performing with 4 Elephants including Mary. He is also pictured performing with 3 elephants playing musical instruments with Circus Bavaria with the same 3 elephants playing skittles.in Jan 1895 he was with Circus Salamonsky Moskau performing a tight rope trick between two Elephants holding the rope.there is a photo of him performing with 6 elephants at the Hippodrome de l'alma in Paris around 1880.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Chris Buckley's Barbershop elephant act may have been part of Eph Thompson's herd?
That act had been part of Eph Thompson's act earlier with his elephants.

K.C said...

John L. Sullivan (the elephant) original name had been "Tiny",prior to being imported to America in 1884 from the Prince of Wales Gardens in Liverpool England.
Where he was then coated with some white substance and tried to been passed off as a sacred White elephant for part of the season.

Anonymous said...

Maybe during those unrecorded years 1888-1991 ,Eph Thompson went to Australia with his elephant act?

K.C said...

I just wanted to ad some info concerning Eph Thompson that comes from a newspaper article dated July 1912 written by David. W Watt(former treasurer with the Adam Forepaugh show)
He wrote that the boxing elephant Sullivan was such a sensation in America its famed reached Europe and that the act was booked for the winter of 1887/1888 in Europe to appear in 14 prinipal theaters in Europe,opening in London December 1887 for three weeks then on to continental Europe.
Adam Forepaugh,jr
James McCarthy/manager and
Eph Thompson /handler.
When they came back to America
for the 1888 season,while in Chicago,a wealthy man from London made a contract with Eph Thompson to go to London and train six elephants,which he trained during the winter,and then the next year,they toured the pricipal cities of Europe.
As far as D.W Watt was aware,
Eph Thompson was still living in London and in show buisness.

Anonymous said...

The Blackpool Tower circus,
I believe that was the home base for the famous Lockhart Bros. elephant trainers of England,so maybe Eph Thompson was associated with them?
Maybe he even trained them?
anyway I went back and read again, George Conklin's book,
THE WAYS OF THE CIRCUS(1921).
In it he doesnt mention any somersaulting elephants in it.
He does state however that he trained the elephant"Queen Anne to do the "Spanish" trot for the
Pogey O'Brien show in the early 1870's.
For the Cole Bros.(late 1870's/early 1880's) show wq Utica New York, he trained elephants to do a military drill.
Also elephant walking a tight-rope(actually planks made to resemble ropes to the audience)
Which I believe he says he originated,
and the elephant at the table with trainer,waiter a big pitcher of water schtick.

Anonymous said...

the dashed lines would appear to indicate the motion of this pachyderm.