Well, well, well. What have we here? Something of a mystery, I think. Who doesn’t love a mystery? Actually, some people don’t. But, I do. So, let’s take a look. Obviously, we have a trade card. No surprise. It’s Victorian. Also not a shock. Spools of thread—giant ones at that—are clearly involved. However, the maker of the thread is almost illegible due to the way the spools have been drawn. Foreshortening is the enemy of readability. What exactly is happening here? We see an elephant being forcibly dragged to America. Okay, then this is a card advertising the arrival of a product from somewhere else. Or is it? Is it elephants? Is it enormous thread? Is it horsies? Elephant saddles? No. I think not. Is it an ad for a specific elephant? He seems to be called Jumbo. But, aren’t all elephants? Let’s make a list of our clues. 1. Elephant labeled as “Jumbo.”, 2. Spools of thread with glandular problems., 3. America being somewhere other than where they are., 4. A parade of animals., 5. Violent abduction of said elephant., So, what could all of this mean?, Let’s start with “Jumbo.” Could this be the well-known elephant of circus lore? Yes. Yes it could. And, it is. “Jumbo” was born in Africa in 1861. After he was captured, he was taken to Cairo and sold to a zoo in Paris. But, by 1865, the Paris Zoo had too many elephants, and so, the Parisians traded Jumbo to the London Zoological Gardens for a rhinoceros. Poor Jumbo, in 1865, wasn’t so very jumbo. In fact, he was quite sickly and small. In London, he found a friend in the form of his keeper, Matthew Scott, who cared for Jumbo and grew him to a gargantuan and unusually large size—11 feet tall, weighing 6.5 tons. His trunk alone was 27 inches in circumference and he quickly became known as the largest elephant ever known in the world. He was christened “Jumbo.” Some believe that his name, possibly the first European use of the word which we now associate with largeness, was derived from a Swahili salutation which means both “Hello” and “Chief.” Others think the name came from the African
word for elephant. Now, Jumbo wasn’t just big, he was sweet. He liked people. He enjoyed being around them—especially children and he delighted in giving rides to them. It’s thought that he gave thousands of rides to British school children during his time at the Zoological Gardens in London. HE quickly became their star attraction. But, Jumbo was getting older. Some of the zoo officials feared that as he aged, his gentle nature might fade and, given his enormity, he could be dangerous to the very children he loved. Enter P.T. Barnum. Mr. Barnum (1810-1891) had a habit of showing up and causing trouble in his showy, hokey, fun and charming way. Barnum was a fan of Jumbo, and, when Mr. Barnum was a fan of something, he wanted it. And, Mr. Barnum always got what he wanted. Barnum offered the London Zoological Gardens $10,000 American dollars for Jumbo, and, the zoo officials accepted. After all, they thought, that money could buy a lot of younger elephants who, though not as big, were probably—in their thinking—safer. Outrage ensued. People all over Britain protested upon the announcement of Jumbo’s sale. Queen Victoria herself denounced the sale and demanded that Jumbo stay in London. The zoo officials quietly told Mr. Barnum that they would have to back out of the deal, but, as I said, Mr. Barnum wasn’t too keen on not getting what he wanted. Furthermore, if there’s any one thing to know about P.T. Barnum, it’s that he loved publicity—especially free publicity. And, so…as one does…he sued. The press in both the U.S. and the U.K. went wild with the story which became an international controversy. In February of 1892, Barnum was sent a telegram from the London “Daily Telegraph” which asked the famous American under what conditions he might accept the cancellation of the sale of Jumbo. His response was, “Hundred thousand pounds would be no inducement to cancel purchase.” The decision was made that Barnum was in the right. But, Jumbo didn’t agree. He liked where he was. He liked the gardens. He liked the kids and he liked his keeper. When Barnum’s men came to collect their prize, Jumbo wouldn’t budge. He refused to leave the Zoological Gardens. That’s a lot of stubbornness. I have trouble moving Bertie when he’s not interested and he’s a twenty-something pound terrier, not a 6.5 ton elephant. So, I’m sure you can imagine that there was trouble ahead. Finally, Jumbo was somehow convinced to leave. I suspect that his cooperation stemmed from the fact that he saw that his devoted trainer—the man who nurtured him to his exceptional size—was going to go with him. Jumbo sailed from England on the freighter “Assyrian Monarch” and arrived in America on April 8, 1882. It seems this card is accurate. Jumbo did, in fact, have to be forced to leave his home and travel across the sea to yet another continent. But, I don’t think he was restrained by giant spools of thread. Let’s see what that’s all about. The Ephemera Society of America tells us that after making numerous sensational headlines on two continents, Jumbo was a star, and being a star, his image was used for a plethora of advertising—a lot of it without the proper licensing, of course, and mostly without Barnum’s consent. But, still, Barnum concluded, publicity is publicity. The card that I have here is not a British card as I originally thought. The arrival refers to Jumbo himself and capitalizes on his ordeal. This trade card was produced by the Willimantic Thread Company in the U.S. Originally, it had a caption which read: JUMBO MUST GO, because drawn by Willimantic Thread! Hmmmm…I think not. If you look closely, you can see that this card has been trimmed to fit into an album. When altered, it lost its caption, but I think we
One of many monuments to Jumbo.
figured it out now. By the way, Jumbo only lived three more years. He did not die of natural causes, but was, instead, oddly enough, hit by a train in Canada. Barnum, making sure to use every last bit of that elephant, made up a ridiculous story that Jumbo had died while trying to rescue a baby elephant, “Tom Thumb,” from being hit by the locomotive. But, that’s pure Barnum hokum. After his death, vets found that, over the years, Jumbo had eaten a lot of bizarre things that he shouldn’t have. Dozens of coins were found in his stomach. I guess kids gave him coins over the years. They also found lots of keys in there. Barnum did more atrocious things to him after the fact, too. However, Jumbo had the last laugh. He is very fondly remembered. Sculptures and tributes and monuments were erected to the plucky pachyderm all over the world, and his name, now a popular word, will forever be associated with something of exceptional size. He inspired songs and countless works of art, and, in many ways, made the world pay close attention to how animals are treated. Yay for Jumbo! Source: Stalking the Belle Époque