Jumbo Lie

jumbo The legend of Jumbo masked a sad and savage story about a violent, alcoholic elephant, reports The Economist in a review of Jumbo, by John Sutherland (2/8/14). Following his capture in 1860, Jumbo was transported to Paris and subsequently purchased by The London Zoo. "For nearly 20 years, Jumbo was marketed as the ‘children’s pet,’ and was fondly remembered by every child who ever rode his patient back or offered him a currant bun." He was then exported to the United Sates, acquired by PT Barnum and re-imagined as "a simple, five-tonne emblem of Yankee ‘bigness’."

Less well-known is that Jumbo arrived in Paris as a "scrofulous, rat-chewed runt, and incidentally saved from the stewpot that awaited other elephants during the siege of Paris in 1870. His English keeper, Matthew Scott … restored him to health, and together with Abraham Bartlett, the zoo’s taxidermist superintendent, set about creating brand ‘Jumbo’ … What no one knew, except zoo insiders’ was that the poor beast was not ‘Jumbo’ at all." Rather, he was "a mad beast African elephant who passed his nights ramming his head against his stall and grinding his tusk to stubs."

His keeper "subdued him with buckets of whiskey at best, and at worst with chains, flogging and stabbing." He was sold to Barnum when he went into season, which wasn’t a sight for young eyes. Then came Jumbo’s untimely death – hit by a freight train. This begat a new legend in which "Jumbo became Nature itself, defeated by the Machine of Progress." He was stuffed and put on display at Tufts University as the school mascot, until his remains were destroyed in a 1975 fire. Jumbo’s ashes are now kept in an old Peter Pan peanut-butter jar in the office of the Tufts athletic director, according to Wikipedia.

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