Elephants in Tennessee

October 10, 2006

Southerners, especially when gathering in places far from their birth, like to see who can out-Flannery O’Connor each other by telling tales about weird people we have known or bizarre events that took place where we grew up.

My show-stopper for years was the tale of “Murderous Mary,” a traveling circus elephant that came to Kingsport in 1916 and killed a man. My paternal grandmother was at the circus parade but did not witness the attack. The owner of the circus decided to execute Mary by hanging, and dispatched her to the town of Erwin, headquarters of the local railroad and home to a large crane.  There, while thousands gawked, poor Mary was executed, but not before the first chain around her neck broke and had to be replaced. 

The New York Times Magazine has a cover story on how human atrocities to elephants, among the most social of beasts, has led to all manner deviant behavior up to and including killing human beings. Can’t say as I blame the pachyderms at all, given what people have done to them.  

Down in the depths of the article, writer Charles Siebert tells the story of Mary, then segues to what happened to another elephant who killed a handler.  This one, Misty, was sent to The Elephant Sanctuary : Hohenwald, Tennessee , where one of the founders, Carol Buckley, says that with good and loving care, Misty “is as sweet as can be. You’d never know that this elephant killed anybody.’’

The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald is a wonderful place.  It does not encourage visitors, but you can see the elephants from a webcam at this link:  The Elephant Sanctuary, Hohenwald, Tennessee.

An Elephant Crackup? – New York Times