Oct. 28, 1975 Brookfield Cook County Illinois, USA
Ziggy The Elephant used to be a Chicago institution, a real-life folk tale that flowered in the '70s, then was slowly forgotten. He was ten feet tall and weighed 13,000 pounds. School kids from that time collected pennies and washed cars to build Ziggy a new and enlightened zoo enclosure. The date of his coming out into the sunshine after 29 years of being chained to a wall indoors was published by Chicago newspapers in their timelines of local history. So was the date he nearly killed his keeper.
Ziggy got his name from vaudeville impresario Flo Ziegfeld, his first US owner. Ziegfeld sold him to Singer's Midgets, who then unloaded four of their most dangerous elephants, which is how Ziggy first got to Chicago's Brookfield Zoo in the '30s. For the first year, no one at the zoo could get close enough to unchain him.
Slim Lewis, then America's foremost elephant trainer -- from the 'old school'-- was brought in to break the Asian rogue. Lewis was able to get Ziggy unchained, and for a while to participate in zoo activities. Then, on April 26, 1941, hormones high from being 'in musth,' Ziggy trunk-slapped Lewis, knocking him fifty feet, while zoo visitors looked on in horror. Before Lewis could get up, Ziggy had him by the leg, plunging his tusks down repeatedly, while Lewis, happy to be slim, rolled into the space in between them to avoid getting gored. When his tusks briefly caught deep in the dirt, Lewis managed to escape. Ziggy picked up Lewis's hat and threw it after him.
Lewis, describing Ziggy as a "devilish, wild-eyed monster," quit the zoo. For the next thirty years, Ziggy was removed from public sight, chained away inside a barn. Then, in the late '60s, the zoo got a new director, who started a PR campaign to get a new large elephant area built. Lewis was called back for an all-is-forgiven reunion event. On September 23, 1970, Lewis led a reluctant Ziggy back into the sunlight, amidst great fanfare. After forty minutes, the pachyderm turned around and went back inside
But the idea caught fire in the Windy City. Newspaper articles were written. Children held parades to benefit The Ziggy Fund. According to one account, "Billboards sprang up all over the Loop to save Ziggy and soldiers in Vietnam identified with his plight and sent money." Hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised to build a private outdoor enclosure. A book "Ziggy: The World's Greatest Elephant" was eventually written. The official coming out party was held a year later.
In March,1975, after four years of living in the new enclosure (where he was handled from a distance), Ziggy severely injured himself after falling into an eight-foot moat designed to keep him from zoo visitors. Trapped in the moat for more than a day (because no one wanted to get near him), a ramp out of the moat was created with gravel, and Ziggy walked out. But he never fully recovered, and on October 28, 1975, he died. He was 58.
The official storyline says Ziggy fell in while flirting with a female in the next enclosure. But according to Lewis in his book, "I Loved Rogues," "Stretching as far as he could, he lashed at a keeper across the moat, lost his balance and pitched in headfirst."
After he died, Ziggy slowly passed from the public's consciousness. His bones were delivered to the Field Museum in Chicago. But his pelvis was so big, at 5-feet-by-5-feet, that it wouldn't fit into a case. For a period it could be found leaning against a wall at the end of a hallway. Today they are in storage -- no photos allowed.
And The Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Arts in Elmhurst, IL has a Ziggy memorial elephant, made from obsidian. The tusks are carved from Ziggy's own ivory. Visiting school kids, even those who don't know Ziggy, still linger.
Burial: Field Museum Chicago Cook County Illinois, USA Plot: Ziggy's bones are in storage