Wednesday, July 13, 2011

An ode to elephants, part I

So, what's with the elephants?

I am certain it is a burning question in all of your minds, so I am going to write a few posts over the next few days (or weeks) about elephants, why they are awesome, and why I love them.

It all began with Tufts University. A place that is near and dear to my heart....The place where I met my soul mate (is that too cheesy to say?) The place where I got a college education. The place where I made multiple dear friendships. The place that allowed me to study in Paris. I could go on, but I really love Tufts. I drank the Koolaid, and I believe that my fancy education was worth it. I also believe that Tufts, especially, is an amazing institution that teaches its students the importance of making "a world of difference." We each have a civic duty to give back to our communities.

And who other to inspire in us this spirit of cooperation and selflessness than Jumbo the elephant? Jumbo is the mascot of Tufts. He began his life in Ethiopia, and was captured as a baby in 1861. Named potentially as a misspelling of "Jumbe," the Swahili word for "chief," the name of Jumbo the elephant was what introduced the word "jumbo" to our language. He lived the early part of his life in Paris, at the Jardin des Plantes, but then was traded to the Regent Park zoo in London. There he met his keeper "Scotty," who would be with him for the rest of his life. In London, Jumbo lived a relatively happy life, giving rides to children, including the children and grandchildren of Queen Victoria, and even to Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, and Phineas T. Barnum!

Finally, Jumbo made his way to America in 1882, purchased by P.T. Barnum for $10,000 to become the main act in the Barnum and Bailey circus. (While thinking of circus animals makes me sad, Jumbo actually did not have to do any "tricks" beyond walking in a circle around the ring next to a baby elephant, so that the crowd could be impressed by his massive size.) Another $20,000 was spent on the logistics of transporting Jumbo to the states, but Barnum made his money back within the first 10 days of Jumbo being a part of the circus menagerie. In the first year, he made $1.5 million!

However, the reason I am proud to have Jumbo as a mascot lies in the story of his tragic death. While it may not actually be true, Barnum's account of Jumbo's death takes place in 1885, when Jumbo was 24 years old. The menagerie was being loaded onto the trains to leave St. Thomas, Ontario, when an unscheduled express freight train came barreling past. Jumbo, who was accompanying the baby elephant Tom Thumb, gave his life to protect the baby elephant by pushing him onto the bank and being struck by the train himself. However it happened, multiple accounts confirm the final moments of his life, when Jumbo curled his trunk around his trainer Scotty, drawing him to his head as Scotty sobbed.

In 1889, after a world tour, Jumbo's stuffed body was donated to Tufts and he became our mascot. Sadly, in 1975, a fire destroyed the body, but the ashes are still kept in a peanut butter jar in the athletic director's office today.

True or not, this is the story of Jumbo's death that is told at Tufts, because we want to be inspired to be as giving and selfless as Jumbo!

1 comment:

  1. Ahhhh, I see. I did not know this story. My college was related to PT as well--Bridgeport. Elephants really are complex, interesting characters, like whales.
    XO SM