“Murderous Mary” Hanged 106 Years Ago This Month.

It happened this month (on September 13th), 107 years ago, in 1916. Mary, also known as “Big Mary” and “Murderous Mary” was hanged after killing circus employee Mr Walter Red” Eldridge.

The Mary in question was a five-ton Asian elephant who was trained to performed at the Sparks World Famous Shows Circus and was hanged in the Erwin Rail Yard, in Steuben County, New York, United States.
Mr Eldridge was murdered by her some 9.5 hours away in Kingsport, Sullivan County, Tennessee, while on his second day only, employed as her handler.

The hanging of “Murderous Mary”

The star of Sparks World Famous Shows had been “Big Mary”, latter a giant Asian elephant advertised By Charles Sparks on his circus posters as “The Largest Living Land Animal on Earth”.
Mary had been purchased by his Charles Sparks’ father in 1898, when she was four years old and Charles Sparks claimed she weighed over 5 tons and stood 3 inches taller than “Jumbo”, latter the star elephant of the rival Barnum and Bailey Circus. Crowds were enthralled as Mary performed tricks which included playing musical instruments; pitching a baseball and standing on her head.

On September 11th, 1916, a homeless man of whom little is known, named “Red” Eldridge, who had initially landed a part-time job as a transient hotel clerk, was hired as an unqualified elephant keeper by the Sparks circus.

Eldridge was killed by “Big Mary” the following evening. Earlier that day, Mr Eldridge had led the elephant parade, from the front, while riding on top of Mary’s back. Later, while being led to a watering ditch between shows by Eldridge, a witness to the murder, one Mr W. H. Coleman, would later recount that his handler had prodded “Big Mary” behind her ear with a hook, after she had reached down to nibble on a discarded watermelon rind. “Big Mary” suddenly appeared to go into a rage, snatching Eldridge with her trunk, before flinging him against a drink stand and then stepped on his head, crushing him.

Later, contemporary newspaper reports, would sensationally claim that “Big Mary” had “sunk her giant tusks entirely through the body of Mr Eldridge. The animal then trampled his dying form, as if seeking a murderous triumph, then with a sudden swing of her massive foot hurled his body into the crowd”. However, of course female Asian Elephants do not grow tusks and only some male Asian elephants have tusks. Most accounts agree that she calmed down afterwards and did not charge onlookers, who began chanting “Kill the elephant! Let’s kill it.”

As crowds screamed and ran for their lives, while a local blacksmith, Mr Hench Cox, tried to kill “Big Mary”, by firing five gun shots, but the bullets bounced off the thick hide of “Big Mary”.
Kingsport officials quickly apprehended the now injured animal and staked her outside the county jail, where onlookers again gathered.

Meanwhile, the leaders of several nearby towns threatened not to allow the circus to visit, if “Murderous Mary” was included in any further shows. In those days rogue elephants who injured or killed handlers could quietly have their names changed and sold to another circus.
The circus owner, Charlie Sparks, reluctantly decided that the only way to quickly resolve the potentially ruinous situation was to kill the wounded elephant in public.
On the following foggy and rainy day, September 13th, 1916, Mary was transported by rail to Unicoi County, Tennessee, where a crowd of over 2,500 people including most of the town’s children assembled in the Clinchfield Railroad yard. Clinchfield had huge, 100-ton derricks they used to unload lumber off their freight cars. Due to flooding Clinchfield refused to send a derrick car all the way to Kingsport, so Charlie Sparks moved his circus south to Clinchfield’s headquarters and repair facilities in Erwin, Tennessee.

In an effort to calm “Murderous Mary”, it was decided to have her walk to the derrick with the other elephant herd, trunk to tail, like they did most every day. When “Big Mary” reached the derrick, circus semi-skilled labourers quickly chained her legs to the rail to keep her still, while the other elephants were led out of sight to avoid observing the horrible event that was about to commence.
By now a silence had fallen across the large assembled crowd gathered, as one of the circus labourers threw the derrick’s chain around the neck of “Murderous Mary’, before fitting the end through a steel ring, before signalling the derrick operator to hoist her up.

The first attempt at hanging, with “Big Mary” struggling resulted in the chain snapping, causing her to fall and break her hip. Her screams sent dozens of adults and children fleeing in terror. Having fixed a second more heavy chain and with Mary now fighting less as the derrick hoisted her into the air it took just a few minutes for the severely wounded Asian elephant to die. The now deceased “Murderous Mary” was buried in a large pre-prepared hole beside the railway tracks, but not before having been examined by a veterinarian who determined that she had a severely infected tooth in the precise spot where Red Eldridge had prodded her with a hook.


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