Elephants Gone Wild, Part 1On June 23, 2021 by Elyse
You may have heard of—or even be having—a hot vax summer, but what about a hot trunk summer? In the summer of ’69, er, 1904, one elephant cut loose and shook his booty off the coast of Coney Island. His hijinks aren’t available on pay-per-view, but we have the next best thing: detailed newspaper accounts. As an added bonus, I promise you won’t have to explain to your significant other how that ended up on your cable bill.
Editor’s note: In the source article, the elephant’s name is a derogatory term. I’ve replaced it in the below excerpts with “Peanut,” in honor of the beloved elephant Beanie Baby of my 1990s childhood.
Peanut, a baby elephant performing at Coney Island, got drunk, tore loose from the compound and, reaching the surf, struck out for Sandy Hook.
Whichever circus employee forgot to card the baby elephant is in mammoth trouble.
Peanut swam for hours without the aid of floaties, passing his swim test with flying colors.
[H]e was sighted at daybreak by Frank Kessler, Jersey City, who was in a boat a mile from New Dorp. Kessler thought he saw a sea serpent and was in great consternation until Peanut lifted his trunk from the water and trumpted.
In Kessler’s defense, the odds of spotting a sea serpent in the bay must’ve been about the same as coming across a drunk, runaway baby elephant.
Kessler recognized the strange apparition as an elephant and threw out all his provisions. Peanut gobbled them, and swimming up to Kessler’s boat, laid his trunk across the gunwale [the upper edge of the side of a boat]. Kessler pulled for shore.
Fortunately for Kessler, Peanut wasn’t a rowdy drunk.
Peanut calmly followed Kessler ashore. . . Kessler led him to Adolph Eberel’s Speedway Inn. . . and mine host provided his strange guest with a bale of hay.
Nachos drowning in cheese is my late-night drunk craving, but to each their own.
Peanut was tired after his night of adventure in the water and soon rolled over and slept. He swam over ten miles in his water journey from Coney Island to Midland Beach. He will hereafter be labeled as the only deep-sea-going pachyderm in captivity.– The Evening Statesman, June 9, 1904
I hope Peanut learned a valuable lesson about drinking and swimming. No word on how bad his hangover was. But if he didn’t accidentally get married or steal a bicycle, it must’ve been better than this guy’s.
Peanut wasn’t the first elephant to take an unauthorized dip during a hot trunk summer. (Just like “fetch,” I’m determined to make “hot trunk summer” happen.)
No one would ever have suspected Basil of masterminding a prison—zoo—break:
Basil [the largest elephant in the herd at the Glen Island Zoo] has probably the best disposition of any elephant in captivity. He delights in children, and is apparently more contented with half a dozen of them on his back than he is in his stall munching hay. He is used about the zoo for motive power when any of the large cages are to be moved.
Let me get this straight: Basil spent his days ferrying around sugar-high children who had probably eaten too much ice cream and lugging cages back and forth? On second thought, it’s a wonder he didn’t go on the lam sooner.
He was tied to a stake outside the elephant sheds while his stall was being cleaned. He amused himself by affectionately encircling the stake with his trunk.
Somebody get Basil a jigsaw puzzle stat.
Then he gave it a quick jerk and the stake traveled high in the air. Basil did not move for an instant or two. Then he looked toward the [Long Island Sound]. The water looked cool and tempting and he started in the direction of it.
There were a couple of rail fences between him and the water, and it was necessary to pass thru part of the island where vegetables are grown. He did not jump the fences, but just pushed thru. They offered about as much resistance as a handful of straw before a moving locomotive.
All that cage pulling paid off.
When he reached the vegetable patch he stopped. The sight of growing cabbages was too tempting to be resisted. He devoured half a dozen.
Don’t feel bad, Basil. I can’t help snacking either.
By this time his absence had been noticed and a number of keepers were after him. He made direct for the water and waded in. The keepers came at him with hooks and spears. Basil filled his trunk with water and drenched them time and time again. . . the elephant struck out into the deep water of the sound.
Run, I mean, swim, Basil, swim!
A telephone message was sent to the Glen Island office in town to dispatch a tugboat. . . There were two keepers in it and they managed to get ahead of the animal and, by waving their arms in front of him, got him to turn and head for shore, his strength apparently not failing, for twice he turned and circled about. When the elephant reached shore he came up and shook himself after the fashion of a dog, and then started for his stall in the elephant sheds.– The Minneapolis Journal, August 29, 1903
Fun fact: Basil Bueller’s Day Off is the inspiration for one of my all-time favorite movies. Or at least it should be. Unfortunately, poor Basil suffered more consequences for his truancy than Ferris ever did.
Basil’s punishment will be confinement in his stall for a week or two.– Waterbury Evening Democrat, August 5, 1903
Hello, PETA? I have a new case for you.
Like Disney, I intend to squeeze everything I can out of this franchise before my two or three fans revolt. Take a break from your hot trunk summer, and come back in two weeks for more stories of elephants behaving badly!
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Disclaimer: The modern era is far from the first to grapple with rampant “fake news.” As I am neither a historian nor journalist, I make no claims about the accuracy or lack thereof of the above sources. I assert only that they make for a good story.
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Welcome to Second Glance History! This blog seeks to uncover the people and the stories forgotten by history and give them another read through a modern lens. Join me every week as we examine the differences that divide and the common threads that connect the then to the now.