Weird History: The town that hung an elephant

Hang on…a town hung an elephant?

I was procrastinating online today and stumbled across an article in the forever brilliant and dramatic MailOnline (don’t dwell on this fact, it’s my guilty pleasure).

After I questioned my eyes, and general humanity, I figured this was just a case of early 20th century Photoshopping. Turns out this photo, and the story behind it, is sadly legit.

On September 13, 1916, the town of Erwin, Tennessee, hung 'Murderous Mary' the elephant after she mauled one of her keepers to death the day before

On September 13, 1916, the town of Erwin, Tennessee, hung ‘Murderous Mary’ the elephant after she mauled one of her keepers to death the day before

Source: MailOnline

It is well known that in the early 1900’s, the general public had a gross fascination with anything morbid (take the celebrity of Bonnie and Clyde for instance). Therefore, it makes all the more sense that this ‘event’ occurred in 1916.

To cut a long story short, while Charlie Sparks, a travelling circus man, stopped off at Kingsport in Tennessee, he put an inexperienced keeper in charge of an elephant called Mary (RIP). During a parade the moron goaded her with a spear which hit an abscess on Mary’s body…naturally she dashed him to the ground then stamped on his head.

Blood and brains and stuff just squirted all over the street,’ recalled one witness.

As the terrified spectators screamed and fled, a local blacksmith shot Mary with a pistol, unloading five rounds of ammunition into her thick hide to little effect. She stood still, suddenly calm again and seemingly oblivious both to the bullets and the commotion as the townsfolk encircled her with chants of ‘Kill the elephant, kill the elephant.’ 

Fearing that his dates in other towns would be cancelled if they heard that his circus was home to a homicidal pachyderm, Charlie Sparks had no choice but to give in to these demands for vengeance.  The only question was how Mary should meet her end.

And this is where it actually gets weird…

Bullets had already proved ineffective and neither was poison likely to work, since elephants have some half a million sense receptors in their trunks and can easily detect noxious substances. Some people advocated CRUSHING Mary slowly between two opposing railway engines. Others called for her head to be tied to one locomotive and her legs to another so that she would be dismembered alive as they set off in opposite directions.


Another CRAZY option was electrocution — there was a horrific precedent for this thanks to Thomas Edison, inventor of the first commercially viable electric light bulb.

Unsurprisingly, after reading the other options hanging doesn’t actually seem all that radical any more.

Poor Mary was raised no more than five feet when the chain around her neck broke, dropping her to the ground and breaking her hip. ‘It made a right smart little racket,’ recalled one of the crowd which was some 3,000-strong and included most of the town’s children.

The onlookers panicked and ran for cover, but Mary simply sat there dazed and in terrible pain. Meanwhile, one of the circus hands ran up her back — as if climbing a small hill rather than a living creature — and attached a stronger chain. The winch was powered up again and this time Mary was raised high in the air, her thick legs thrashing and her agonised shrieks and grunts audible even over the laughter and cheers of those watching below. Finally she fell silent and hung there for half an hour before a local vet declared her dead. Her gruesome end is recorded in a photograph so horrifically surreal that some have suggested it must be a fake — but, all too sadly, its authenticity has been confirmed by other photographs taken at the time.

So there you have it, the town that hanged an elephant.

And on that note, sweet dreams.

Read the full story here.

Disclosure: Extracts of this articles have been taken from the Mail Online.

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