The story of one town’s brutal killing of a circus elephant brings to light how much society has progressed over 100 years.
In February 1916, Charlie Sparks’ traveling circus arrived in Kingsport, Tennessee ready to entertain people from all over the area. An inexperienced keeper was put in charge of a popular elephant named Mary that day, and due to his lack of training, a situation got so out of hand that Mary was publicly put to death.
A painful and cruel jabbing technique was regularly used by elephant keepers to make sure the animals stayed in line, but while Mary was attempting to eat a watermelon rind during a parade on the day of the incident, the painful jab from the inexperienced keeper proved to be too much for her to handle. Witnesses described the horror when Mary whipped around and stomped on the keeper’s head.
“Blood and brains and stuff just squirted all over the street,” said one bystander at the time.
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The local people were outraged that “Murderous Mary,” as they later called her, had reacted that way, so they began to demand, “Kill the elephant, kill the elephant!”
Charlie Sparks, the owner of the traveling circus, worried that if he didn’t dispose of Mary, people would stop coming to his show and he would be out of business. So, on the infamous day in February of 1916, the town of Erwin, Tennessee watched as Mary was publicly hanged as punishment for what she did.
A picture of the gruesome hanging was taken, and although many have speculated that it was a fake, it’s been confirmed that it is in fact real. Today, Mary is buried somewhere in or near Erwin, but nobody knows exactly where. The town is now known for what it did to Mary, and nearly 100 years later, it’s interesting to see how far society has come in its treatment of animals.