Electrocuting an Elephant

I was watching Errol Morris’ excellent documentary, Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., and Morris included some grainy footage of an elephant being electrocuted in 1903. However, there was no explanation of who this elephant was nor what evil deed it had done for someone to go to the extremes of electrocuting the poor beast. So of course I paid a visit to Youtube.com and the elephant electrocution had been uploaded three times with little commentary, except one post that attributed the footage to Thomas Edison. Further research on Wikipedia revealed that the elephant, Topsy, was a former performer at Forepaugh Circus and then Luna Park at Coney Island. Apparently, Topsy had killed three people over the years—”including an abusive trainer who tried to feed her a lit cigarette.” The decision was made to kill the beast and various proposals were considered and abandoned—including hanging the elephant and/or giving it a carrot laced with cyanide. Thomas Edison stepped in and suggested electrocuting Topsy—as long as he could film the event. The public electrocution drew approximately 1,500 people and Edison presented the film to receptive audiences all over the country. The Coney Island Museum includes a memorial for Topsy. And now you know the rest of the story . . .


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