Topsy the Electrocuted Elephant
Date created: 22 October 2000
Last updated: 2 February 2010
On Sunday January 4, 1903, crowds at Coney Island's electrically lit show-piece Luna Park watched the public execution of Topsy, a female elephant employed by the Park to give rides and carry construction materials.
The Commercial Advertiser, New York, Monday, January 5, 1903.
BAD ELEPHANT KILLED.
Topsy, the ill-tempered Coney Island elephant, was put to death in Luna Park, Coney Island, yesterday afternoon. The execution was witnessed by 1,500 or more curious persons, who went down to the island to see the end of the huge beast, to whom they had fed peanuts and cakes in summers that are gone. In order to make Topsy's execution quick and sure 460 grams of cyanide of potassium were fed to her in carrots. Then a hawser was put around her neck and one end attached to a donkey engine and the other to a post. Next wooden sandals lined with copper were attached to her feet. These electrodes were connected by copper wire with the Edison electric light plant and a current of 6,600 volts was sent through her body. The big beast died without a trumpet or a groan.
Topsy was brought to this country twenty-eight years ago by the Forepaugh Circus, and has been exhibited throughout the United States. She was ten feet high and 19 feet 11 inches in length. Topsy developed a bad temper two years ago and killed two keepers in Texas. Last spring, when the Forepaugh show was in Brooklyn, J. F. Blount, a keeper, tried to feed a lighted cigarette to her. She picked him up with her trunk and dashed him to the ground, killing him instantly.
As gruesome a story as this is, it is the events that led to Thomas Edison's company being in a position to electrocute poor Topsy that makes the story especially chilling.
To read about those events try returning to this site over the coming weeks and months, as I write more. In the meantime, if you want to find out about the Topsy story, try the following fascinating sites:
If you have any information you wish to share about Topsy, the electrocution of animals in developing the electric chair, or any elephant deaths in the UK — especially Educated Archie, who died in Penarth, south Wales on Friday, 31st May 1901 — please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. All snippets of information will be gratefully received.
© copyright 2000, Andrew Tomlinson: All rights reserved. No portion of this document may be reproduced, copied or revised without written permission of the author.