Thursday, May 13, 2010

From Richard Reynolds #3

!cid_X_MA3_1273448932@aol, originally uploaded by bucklesw1.

Henry Bowser was Barnum's personal secretary. He maintained extensive diaries which, luckily for the researcher, are preserved in the Pfening Archives, Columbus, Ohio. They record Barnum's many business dealings and often list animal acquisitions and deaths. As for animals, the diaries are akin to the log books once maintained in the larger zoos. Here is an example - -Bowser's entry for February 10, 1883 reads: "3 small elephants arrive from Hamburg making a herd of 28. Chief and Hebe copulated on 6th, 8th, and 10th."

Asian elephant Chief was the sire of Baby Bridgeport born in 1882 and Hebe the dam of Columbia born in 1880.

Bowser recorded much about the white elephant affair. On May 22, 1883 he recited a cable from Gaylord in Singapore advising the that the white elephant died. That would have been the one mentioned above as having been poisoned.

On November 24, 1883 he recorded Gaylord's cable to the effect that he had the sacred white elephant with royal documents. "Cost $6,000." That would appear to be the true price paid for Taoung Taloung. Today that would be $133,000 dollars - - - quite a sum but nothing like the prices Barnum had put out to the press. High prices for this or that were a staple of the American showman's hyperbole as they bespoke a rich and resplendent circus, and the public ate it up.

On November 28, 1883 Bowser quoted another cable from Gaylord - - "White elephant with two assistants leave with Sacred Elephant December 8, Steamer Tenasserim (sic)."

Bowser's entry for March 28, 1884 recites - -" Sacred white elephant arrives in New York on Lydian Monarch."

The Barnum circus exhibited Toung Taloung amid much oriental splendor. In moving from town to town, he rode in a special railroad car in the circus train. Its exterior was painted white, affixed with mirrors, faux jewels and oriental carvings in relief, plus art work - - or so the newspapers reported. That seems like a lot of expensive trimming for the exterior of a rail car subject as it would be to the elements, damage, and vandalism. So far we have not seen an image of the car. Yet, we know of one circus advertising car that featured wooden carvings in relief.

As mentioned, Toung Taloung was a disappointment. He traveled with the Barnum circus only one more year (1885) after which he was left at the winter quarters in Bridgeport, Conn. That is where he died. He was one of three elephants burned to death in a horrible fire which consumed the animal barns on the night of November 20, 1887. Keepers managed to get another 28 elephants safely outside. In addition to Toung Taloung, the fire killed female African elephant Alice, Jumbo's so-called widow (ex-London zoo) - -also Samson, a huge male Asian belonging to showman W. W. Cole who was then in a short term partnership with Barnum. Samson had been acquired by Cole from the Reiche animal firm in 1882 as a fully adult animal, rivaling in weight Barnum's Jumbo and Forepaugh's Bolivar.

Some the literature states that the fire also killed Baby Bridgeport, the American conceived (1880) and born (1882) Asian elephant . Not so, Bowser recorded that the youngster died on April 12, 1886.

But what about Forepaugh's Light of Asia. Though the fraud was exposed, Forepaugh continued to extol the Light of Asia for the remainder of the season. Forepaugh announced that he died suddenly at Winter quarters on November 18, 1884. Nothing of the sort.

Returned to his "true colors," the young male surfaced in 1885 under the name John L. Sullivan, after the renowned heavyweight boxing champion whose career was then on the ascendency. Elephant John L. Sullivan was trained by the black elephant man, Eph Thompson, to do a prize fight parody with a keeper. This was a very popular number on the Forepaugh program. After that novelty wore out, our elephant became just plain "John."

John had a long circus career as a tuskless male. Fortunately his periods of musth alwasy took place in winter quarters before the circus went on the road. He was quite tractable when before the public. He died at the Sarasota, FL winter quarters of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus on January 16, 1932. He was in captivity for some 49 years, first in England and then in USA. Allowing for the time of his birth and first year or two in Asia, he would have been over 50 when he died. That is quite a record for a male Asian.

And now I'll quit,


Jack Ryan said...

Really fascinating to read. Thanks Mr. Reynolds for posting this.

Mike Naughton said...


Fascinating is the perfect word.