The Story of Big Mary

Mary was the biggest elephant in the Sparks World Famous Shows circus, weighing in at about five tons.  On September 12, 1916, the circus played the town of Kingsport, Tennessee.  Walter ‘Red’ Eldridge was hired just the day before to work for the circus as an elephant handler, even though he had no experience with the animals.

On September 12th, Eldridge was riding Mary to a water hole so that she could drink.  There are varying stories, but the most common version of what happened that day started with Mary veering off path to eat a piece of watermelon lying in the road.  When Eldridge prodded the side of her head in an attempt to make her stay on course, she used her trunk to snatch him off her back.  Then, she forcefully threw him into a wooden drink stand, walked over to his battered and bruised body, and proceeded to crush his skull with her enormous foot.  Bystanders watched in horror as Eldridge’s blood and brains oozed onto the street.

The townspeople demanded that Mary be killed.  Other towns the circus had scheduled to perform in said the circus was not welcome as long as Mary was in the show.

Debates on how to kill Mary ensued.  It was determined that no gun existed big enough to take her down.  Electrocution and canons were other proposed methods.  Finally, it was decided that Mary would be hung from a rail yard crane in the nearby town of Erwin, Tennessee.  The execution was heavily advertised, and the following day a crowd of more than 2,500 people, including children, gathered to witness her death.

Mary’s leg was tied to the crane so she could not escape, and a chain was put around her neck.  On first attempt, the chain around her neck snapped.  She fell to the ground and broke her hip.  Reports say that the sound of her bones breaking was heard by the thousands of onlookers.  A larger chain was placed around her neck and she was hoisted up again.  This time, the hanging was a success.  Mary was dead.  They let her hang for a half an hour, then her huge body was buried in the rail yard.

The people of Erwin say they would like to forget that the town ever played a part in the hanging of Mary.


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7 Responses to “The Story of Big Mary”

  1. Johnny Says:

    That’s fucked up, man.

  2. bryan Says:

    so sad. reminds me of a lil movie i made earlier this week about work.

  3. Vaughn Says:

    Thats the most fucked up shit I’ve seen. Never should have happened. If they would have left the elephant in the wild no of this shit would have happened. Disgusts me to no end. Who would watch that happen anyway. People are fucked up really fucked up. No animal should have to go through that. I’d fuck that crane operator up if he was still alive.

  4. » The Story of Big Mary Says:

    [...] The Story of Big Mary [...]

  5. swank deezy Says:

    first off, it was 1916, peta was not around. second, if that was your brother, father, son you would want some sort of redemption. Times are a changing. And also this is BACKWOODS Tennessee, im sure alot worse was going on at that time that didnt get published in news papers. I lived in Johnson City for quite awhile and bad as it may be, atleast its something Erwin can claim for its 15 seconds of fame.

  6. Pangur Says:

    That elephant got what it deserved. I think that any animal that kills a human being should, at a minimum, be drawn and quartered.

  7. Beebop Says:

    I read a somewhat different account, which said that according to many eyewitnesses, Mary stopped to eat a discarded watermelon rind and ignored Eldridge when he used the elephant hook to try to get her moving. Then he hauled off and hit her as hard as he could in the head with it, and she responded by throwing him against a wall and crushed his head with her foot.

    The owner of the circus knew that because of her size, it was unlikely that he could sell her to another circus which was what usually happened when an elephant killed a human. He set up and publicized the “execution” to preserve show dates that had been threatened with cancellation, and to help recoup his loss.

    Yes, it was a depraved thing to do by our present-day standards when we understand that keeping wild animals in captivity does not change their basic nature and that doing so is wrong for many reasons.

    I feel sorry for Eldridge, who should never have been put in charge of an elephant, and who died an awful death. I also feel sorry for the elephant, living an unnatural life in captivity and dying an unnatural and painful death for no other reason than a natural reaction to abuse.

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