This is the tragic story of Mary the Elephant who was hanged for ‘murder’ after treading on the head of a trainer who poked her with a bull-hook.
Mary was a five-ton Asian Elephant, also known as Murderous Mary, who performed in the Sparks World Famous Shows circus. After killing a trainer in Kingsport, Tennessee, she was hanged in 1916. Her death is sometimes interpreted as a cautionary tale of circus animal abuse during the early 20th century.
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!”.
The circus owner, Charlie Sparks, reluctantly decided that the only way to quickly resolve the potentially ruinous situation was to kill the Elephant in public. It was decided to hang the Elephant by the neck from a railcar-mounted industrial crane.
As she was led to the railway yard, Mary was followed by the circus’s other four Elephants, each entwining their trunk in the tail of the animal in front just as they had done on countless parades. Charlie Sparks hoped that their presence would keep her compliant but, as a chain was placed around her neck at the “scaffold”, they trumpeted mournfully to her and he feared that she might try to run away. To stop this happening, one of her legs was tethered to a rail. No one thought to release it as the derrick whirred into action and, as she was hoisted into the air, there was an awful cracking noise, the sound of her bones and ligaments snapping under the strain. She had been raised no more than five feet when the chain around her neck broke, dropping her to the ground and breaking her hip.
The industrial crane was powered up again and this time Mary was raised high in the air, her thick legs thrashing and her agonized 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 reports and photographs taken at the time.
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