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Hanging of the Elephant in Erwin, Tennessee

Hanging of the Elephant in Erwin, Tennessee

Circus animal abuse is something that has always occurred. Not only does it happen to this day among circuses, but it also happened during the 1900’s. Here, we will take a closer look at one of the most well known cases of animal abuse, in which an animal was put to death for a human’s mistake.

During the year of 1916, the Sparks Brothers Circus came to the town of Saint Paul, which is located in Virginia. With them came Mary the elephant, who was thirty years old and weighed five tons. The circus owner, Charlie Sparks, needed a full-time caretaker for Mary. Of course, during this point in time, it was not necessary to have any type of training or experience with animals in order to become an animal trainer for the circus. The inexperienced Red Eldridge was given the job.

The circus traveled to Kingsport, Tennessee. September 12th was Red Eldridge’s first day working as an elephant caretaker. Although it is not completely known what has happened that day, one story tends to hold true. This is that Eldridge used a prodding stick in order to “control” Mary. Unfortunately, by trying to “control” the animal through this torturous technique, he instead enraged her. Mary grabbed Eldridge with her trunk, swung him through the air, and threw him- causing him to hit a drink stand. Once Red Eldridge hit the ground, Mary trampled on him, killing him instantly.

From this moment on, the poor creature was known and recognized as “Murderous Mary”, and was put in chains due to her behavior. Although it has been determined that after she killed Eldridge, Mary was a calm animal and did not attack anyone else, people still believed that she needed to be put to rest for her actions. In fact, there were a number of different towns who claimed that they would not allow the circus to come until Mary was killed.

Charlie Sparks decided, against his dismay, that the only way to keep his circus in business was to kill Mary in public. On September 13th, 1916, Mary was hung from an industrial crane that was mounted by a railcar. The first time that they tried to hang her, a chain snapped which caused Mary to fall from the crane and break her hip. The second time that they tried to hang her, they were successful. Mary was then buried beside the railroad tracks near the spot where she was hung.

Charlie Sparks was inducted into the circus hall of fame in 1961, irregardless of the decision that he made to put this poor animal to death. The legend of this brutal elephant hanging that happened in Erwin, Tennessee still lives on till this day.

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