Saturday, May 13, 2017

Elephant rampage in Marianna, Florida

Marianna as it appeared in 1894 when Gipsy the elephant
went on a rampage and met his fate.
Marianna has seen its share of excitement over the years. A battle was fought there during the War Between the States (or Civil War) and there were "Old West" style gunfights during the Reconstruction era.

For wildness and color, however, the 1894 rampage of a circus elephant through the Florida city probably tops them all!

The arrival of the P&A Railroad in Marianna during the late 19th century signaled a new era in the history of the city. Not all of the changes, however, were positive.

A report in late March of 1883 noted, for example, that “gardens were pretty, chickens and eggs selling at good prices,” but went on to mention that another side of the economy was booming thanks to the railroad. “Five Bar-rooms in town,” the story continued, “we need just two more newspapers to keep up with the times.”[i]

Elephants in a circus parade during the 1890s.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
The railroad also provided a way for new forms of entertainment to reach Marianna. In February of 1894, for example, the circus came to town with elephants, other animals and all of its related entertainers. Unfortunately for the circus, however, one of its prime attractions met his untimely end in Marianna:

PENSACOLA, Fla., Feb. 21 – A special from Marianna states that the large elephant, Gipsy, belonging to the Harris Nickel Plate Show, now playing in that town, was killed to-day. The elephant was being taken from the car to the tent when he became unruly and refused to go. He got away, was captured and chained in his tent. He managed to escape again, tore down tents, knocking one man down and came very near killing several that were standing around. After a long chase he was re-captured but refused to go in the car, showed fight and had to be killed. Twenty shots were fired into him by a Winchester.[ii]

Marianna legend holds that Gipsy the elephant is buried in
the open ground visible in this photo of Riverside Cemetery.
Photo by Dale Cox. Aircraft piloted by Brig. Gen. James W. Hart
Gipsy should not be confused with another of the show's elephants, a female named Gypsy. She was labeled a "man killer" by the press and it was even said that she had notches on her tusks to match the number of people she had killed.

Gypsy, like the male elephant Gipsy, met a stunning fate as well. In the final performance for the circus of the 1902 tour, the elephant rampaged through Valdosta, Georgia. One person was killed before the city’s police department shot her to death.[iii]

So what became of Gipsy, the male elephant killed in Marianna?

Local legend holds that he was dragged by a team of horses to Riverside Cemetery where he was buried with full honors. The traditional site of the elephant's grave is in a low area near the northeast corner of the cemetery and not far from the entrance to the appropriately named Crypt Cave. 

[i] Columbus Daily Enquirer, March 20, 1883, p. 4.
[ii] Charlotte Observer, February 22, 1894, p. 1.

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