Tag Memory


The world’s first circus elephant

As a symbol of the circus, elephants are right up there with clowns and the flying trapeze. But recently the Ringling and Barnum and Baliey’s Circus announced that it would phase out it’s elephant performers by 2018, allowing them to be retired to an elephant park the circus set up in 1996.


Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus, still keeps 43 elephants, 13 of which are performing. But years of pressure from activists alleging abuse have caused a “mood shift” among consumers, circus executive Alana Feld told The Associated Press, and the Feld family would rather spend money on elephant care than lawyers. The Felds say they’ll phase out elephant acts by 2018 as the remaining performers retire to their 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida. (from AP News)

America’s first circus elephant was captured in East Africa as a calf and and shipped around Europe’s zoos for years. Jumbo the elephant grew up fast. By the time he was displayed in London he was larger than any known African elephant, measuring eleven feet tall at the shoulder. Certainly the largest Elephant on display in the world.

Most zoos and menageries at the time preferred the smaller Asian elephant. African elephants had a reputation for being dangerously wild and out of control. Apart from his size the other thing that set Jumbo apart was his calm and docile behavior around spectators, including children. But as he aged he began to show signs of a dangerous temperament. Afraid that their main attraction would wind up hurting someone, the London zoo sold Jumbo to PT Barnum for ten thousand dollars in 1881. (That’s about two hundred thirty thousand in today’s dollars.)

Elephants never forget

Everyone has to have a favorite animal when they are a child. African elephants were my favorite for a long time. I think the first image of an elephant I ever saw was a large poster of Jumbo that hung on a basement wall at the Grandstreet theater. It was there for years hanging next to the telephone and across from the pop machine. I was fascinated by the little hairs on his head, his cold eye, and all those kids on his back. Was it even possible that he was so big? “No,” my father told me, “he was big but he wasn’t that big.”


There is something magical but so dark about the image. The brutality of his truncated tusks and those chains. I remember going to the circus when I was a kid and getting to ride the elephant there with PJ and Ed. I remember her dusty dry skin, curious snotty trunk covered in thick bristles and the chains around her feet. That was the first time I saw the horrible spike/hook on a stick that the trainers use to get the elephants to go where they want. It horrified me. Such a beautiful animal, moving with a melancholy grace getting jabbed and prodded by some jerk with a stick. It wasn’t fair!

I loved the circus but I couldn’t stand seeing the abuse. So eventually I refused to go to any circus with animal shows and I avoided them all together until a few years ago I persuaded my family to go see a Mexican circus when we were vacationing in Belize. I could have missed that one too. Nothing had changed. Still just as inhumane as I’d remembered. But still, that stick. I’m happy that they are letting the elephants finally rest. It’s about time.

My Friend Christian


A friend of mine, Christian Cowie, passed away after succumbing to complications of his muscular dystrophy in the early morning of July 5th, 2010. He was a few weeks shy of his 27th birthday.

We spent our school days together, starting in the same second grade class at Bryant here in Helena and I had the good fortune to have my path cross with his a few times over the following years.

From those earliest days I can remember splashing around in the municipal pool together and dancing like crazy people on the low-pile carpet during classroom pizza parties. He seemed proud and annoyed in equal measure when his loving and proudly eccentric dad would come into class every year to give water color painting demonstrations. I remember him coming to a birthday party of mine with his brother Johnathan, they brought me a Ninja Turtle action figure that would sometimes do back flip. I can remember some lazy, summertime, pre-teen afternoons he would call and invite me to play at his house. He had a truly massive toy collection and always kicked my ass at any video game we played together. Once we were sufficiently bored of being inside we would go down to the corner store and buy ridiculous, gross out candy invented for boys just our age.

I remember how in middle school he hated the people he was forced to be with every day to the point of once getting into an unfair fist fight (he was palming a combination lock!) with another kid in the elevator between classes. He would lust openly after the most beautiful girls in class, writing them daring love letters and asking “to go out” point blank.

One noon hour we were eating lunch together and out of the blue he told me something about friendship that at the time made me wince with embarrassment. Between bites of French fries and chicken strips, he told me, “friendship is really a kind of love. And because we’re friends that means that we love each other. So really it’s not too weird so say I love you to each other.” Even though I didn’t say anything then, I knew he was right just as much as I know it now.

He was a good friend to me and even though it’s too late to tell him as much I’m glad to be able to acknowledge the impact he has had on my life.

I love you too Christian, and I will miss you very, very much.