Vera the Elephant
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
The Tarzan movies showed us scenes of how evil ivory traders and unscrupulous explorers tracked wounded and aging elephants to the elephant graveyard. The elephant graveyard was that mysterious, perhaps mythical location that all old elephants go to die… all except one that is.
Vera was an Asian elephant born in the wild in approximately 1880. She was captured and became part of the Ringling Brothers Circus, but in 1910 she was transferred to the Overton Park Zoo in Memphis, Tennessee. For the next sixteen years she enjoyed the tranquility of zoo life, but in 1926 she once again found herself in the spotlight with the Robbins Brothers Circus. Vera went on to change owners a number of times over the next twelve years. Eventually, she found herself with the Arthur Brothers Circus, traveling the circuit from California to Wisconsin.
On this date in 1945, the circus train came to Devils Lake. The sixty-five year old
elephant, valued at $10,000, stepped off the train in the Great Northern Railroad Yard and collapsed. An infected toenail had spread poison throughout her five-ton bulk over a six week period, and, just prior to the widespread use of penicillin, there was nothing that could be done to save her. She was administered an injection to end her misery.
So, now a monumental task remained. With the heat of a July sun beating down, what do you do with the colossal remains of a deceased elephant? Dave Johnson of Devils Lake took on the challenge. The initial decision was to dig a large hole and bury the carcass, but with World War II ongoing, equipment to dig such a big hole was difficult to find, so the only recourse was cremation. Over three hundred and fifty gallons of waste oil were used, and when the smoke cleared, only a few of the larger bones remained. These were buried near the city dump just west of town.
When the initial press release was issued by the City of Devils Lake, it stated that a bull elephant had died, since in the circus vernacular, any elephant is known as a bull regardless of sex. Nonetheless, W. E. Hocking, the Mayor of Devils Lake felt a need to apologize, and on behalf of the city he stated, “….the city’s sense of chivalry extends even to the pachyderms, so let the mistaken report be corrected.” Vera was a lady!
Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis
The Devils Lake World July 18, 1945
http://www.elephant.se/databse – The elephant database.