Monday, September 13, 2010

Mary The Elephant & The Mind

Today we commemorate the grizzly death of Mary the elephant. Mary was a member of Sparks Bro. Circus, paying a visit to East Tennessee in 1916, when she attacked and killed her handler.

Justice was dealt swiftly. Mary was sentenced to death in Erwin, Tennessee.  However, the sentence proved difficult to execute. Gun shots were ineffective. Mary was paraded to the rail yard. In the presence of several thousand spectators, an iron chain was fastened around her neck, and the five-ton animal was hoisted up in the air with a heavy duty steam-powered derrick. The first chain broke. Mary died on the second attempt. This photograph preserves the gruesome moment for history. Joan Vannorsdall Schroeder published a detailed account of the sad story entitled "The Day They Hanged an Elephant in East Tennessee" on

Some suggest the photograph may be a fake. The depiction of the brutish, senseless act long ago only berates the people who live in this beautiful part of the country, serving no good purpose. Hence, let us take the anniversary of this incident to celebrate that our minds have changed in the century that has almost passed since Mary's horrific death.

Early this year, Tilikum the killer whale precipitated the tragic death of his long-time handler at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. We shall never fathom what was on his mind. Tim Zimmermann provides a detailed, graphic account of the incident with a possible explanation in his post with the title "The Killer in the Pool" published online by Outside Magazine in July. Perhaps, elephants and orcas should not be kept in captivity for our entertainment. Whatever our stance, Tilikum may consider himself fortunate that he lives today. According to Donna Leinwand's post for USA TODAY with the title "Orca to be spared in trainer's death" dated Feb. 26, 2010, SeaWorld's operators decided already then that Tilikum will remain at SeaWorld unharmed.


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