|Death: ||Sep. 13, 1916|
She was once billed as, "Mary, the largest living land animal on Earth; 3 inches taller than Jumbo and weighing over 5 tons. A positive feature at each exhibition." Mary the elephant was a circus performer for the Spark's World Famous Show. Charles Sparks, the owner of the circus, had been in the entertainment business since the late 1800's, and he purchased his first elephant, Mary, in 1896. Moving from a horse and wagon circus to one that traveled by railroad, by the year 1916, the circus had five elephants and used fifteen rail cars to move from town to town. In early September of 1916, a man by the name of Walter "Red" Eldridge was hired as an underkeeper for the elephants while the show was in St. Paul, Minnesota. After the circus left St. Paul, it traveled to Kingsport, Tennessee, where it opened on September the 12th. Between performances, the five elephants were driven to a watering hole. On one occasion, while on the way back to the tent, Mary saw a piece of watermelon beside the road and broke ranks. Witnesses say that Red Eldridge took a bull hook and jabbed Mary's ear, and she became enraged. The witnesses say that Mary grabbed Eldridge with her trunk, threw him against a drink stand, then stepped on his head - completely crushing his skull. After the death of Red Eldridge, the people of Erwin screamed "Kill the elephant," but all it took was for Charlie Sparks to calm her down. At times with this story, its hard to tell fact from fiction, but several accounts say that the town's Mayor and Sheriff had Mary 'arrested' and detained by staking her outside the Sullivan County Jail. That night, Charlie Sparks and his wife Addie, even though they loved her like their own child, decided that it was too risky for Mary to be around circus patrons, so they decided to have her destroyed. On September 13th under overcast skies and a steady rain, Mary and the other four elephants were moved to Erwin, Tennessee. At around 5 o'clock that afternoon, all five of the Sparks elephants were moved to the railroad siding where Mary's hanging was to take place. With a crowd of 3,000 onlookers watching in the rain, Mary's foot was chained to the railroad tracks, and another chain was put on her neck. Straining under her five-ton weight, a railroad crane slowly lifted Mary off the ground by her neck chain, it but soon broke because someone forgot to unchain Mary's foot from the railroad track. Witnesses said they could actually hear the tendons in Mary's ankle being torn apart while she was being hoisted in the air. Witnesses added that when the neck chain broke, Mary fell on the tracks, and that she was dazed, confused, and unable to get up. Railroad workers got another chain around Mary's neck and lifted her up again with the railroad crane, this time successfully, and to make sure she was dead, left her hanging for thirty minutes. Later that day, a railroad steam shovel dug Mary's grave 400 feet from the hanging site in Clinchfield Railroad Yard. Various reports have the size of Mary's grave as anywhere from 10 by 12 feet all the way to as "big as a barn." Her remains are reportedly still in the Clinchfield Railroad Yard, but to this day, no one has been allowed to dig and confirm it. Several sources also say that several people in Erwin have tried to build a memorial to Mary, but it was met with resistance by town leaders. The consensus is that Erwin is trying to quiet down its reputation as the town that hanged Mary the circus elephant.
Specifically: Buried in front of the Erwin Train Station door
Maintained by: Find A Grave
Originally Created by: Mark Childrey
Record added: Jun 22, 2006
Find A Grave Memorial# 14671741
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