Moving a large animal 134 years ago – Bridgeport Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin

Today, the Bridgeport Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin with its portrait of P. T. Barnum remembers his challenges in moving Jumbo from England to America in 1882.

In The Ivory King, A Popular History of the Elephant and Its Allies, published in 1886, Charles Frederick Holder devoted a section to Jumbo.

An excerpt:


Whether founded on fact, it is difficult to say, but rumors became current, that Jumbo had given evidence of dangerous outbursts of temper; and the keepers were afraid, so the report went, that possibly someone would be hurt.

At this opportune juncture, Mr. Barnum, through an agent, offered the Zoological Society the sum of ten thousand dollars for Jumbo, which was immediately accepted; and, before the astonished public were hardly aware of what had occurred, the papers were signed that placed Jumbo in American hands.

When this fact became known, there rose a clamor and protest from all classes. The excitement grew daily, added to by the comments of the German, English, and French press, until the question of Jumbo was the all-absorbing topic of the day.

“The New- York Herald ” said, “It seems a sad thought that a war between England and America is imminent, and may break out at any moment, and that no intervention will be able to stay the angry passions of two nations which ought to live in undisturbed harmony.

“The cause of this possible outbreak is the thoughtless sale of Jumbo, the pet elephant. Mr. Barnum vows that he will exhibit the giant to fifty millions of free Americans at fifty cents apiece. It seems a pity to rupture the amicable relations that have so long existed between us and our neighbors, but we must have that elephant.”

Thousands now flocked to the Garden to see the now famous elephant, that evidently had a stronghold upon their affections; subscriptions were started, to buy him back at any price; and the directors of the Garden were the butt of a vast amount of abuse.

The young folks, who were the greatest losers by the sale of Jumbo, were not silent; and their attempts to move Mr. Barnum were shown in letters

These appeals, of course, had no effect upon Mr. Barnum; and in the mean time preparations had been going on to ship the giant.

A huge box was constructed, six feet eight inches in width, and thirteen feet high, bound with heavy bands of three-fourths inch iron, weighing in all six tons.

Feb. 18, 1882, was selected as the day for the start.

To prevent any trouble, Jumbo was heavily chained by his feet; and, after a struggle to break his bonds, he was led toward the box that was to convey him to the steamer.

But elephants are naturally suspicious, and Jumbo was no exception to the rule.

Bracing back, he flatly refused to enter; and the attempt was then given up.

The next day, another trial was made, with like success; then it was proposed to walk the great animal to the steamer, with the hope that, after the long tramp, he would enter the box readily.

Accordingly, the gates were thrown open, and Jumbo marched out; and “then,” says “The London Tele graph,” “came one of the most pathetic scenes in which a dumb animal was ever the chief actor. The poor brute moaned sadly, and appealed in all but human words to Scott, his keeper, embracing the man with its trunk, and actually kneeling before him.”

In short, Jumbo refused to go, and was again returned to his house; and then the storm of public resentment broke out with renewed fury.

The actions of the elephant were contorted into every possible meaning: his simplest acts and movements were given a significance which in all probability they did not have, and the press urged that some action be taken to prevent what was considered an outrage.

A prominent clergyman wrote, “I trust the people of London will rise as one man, to prevent this cruel, inhuman bargain being carried out. Are there not walls in England strong enough to hold Jumbo, that we must send him away?”

Every legal obstacle was thrown in the way of the Americans.

The authorities objected to the elephant being led through the streets; and, according to Mr. Barnum, the superintendent of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals never left the Garden until Jumbo did, awaiting an opportunity, according to the Americans, to use his authority in favor of public sentiment.

As a last resort, an interim injunction was sworn out before Justice Chilly, restraining the Council of the Zoological Society from allowing Jumbo to be removed.

But finally it was seen that Jumbo had been purchased fairly; and in the last of March the great elephant was coaxed into its box, and was ultimately hoisted aboard the steamer “Assyrian Monarch,” and shipped to New York, where he was hauled up Broadway in triumph by sixteen horses and a large crowd who dragged upon ropes attached to the wheeled box for the purpose; and from that time to his death became the object of great attention.

One never tired looking at this stupendous animal. His enormous size, the pillar-like legs, — columns of support rather than for locomotion, — his stately movements, the pendulum-like swinging of his huge trunk, all impressed the observer that Jumbo was indeed the king among all animals, and the most remarkable one ever seen upon this continent.


The Bridgeport Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows beside an illustration of Jumbo from the book.

Bridgeport Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin