Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Elephant Shenanigans

So the big headline in the English-version media is at Korea Times: Is Racism Serious Here? Yeah, yeah. Take your pick of K-bloggers, they'll be all over it before before I reach the end of this sentence.

No, what caught my eye was "Elephant Under Police Investigation" over at Korea Herald. Ah ha, circus rampage, I thought immediately. I always think that, because my family hails from the small town of Erwin, Tennessee.

I knew you'd understand. No? Well, here's some background: Away back a long time ago, when my Grandpa was a boy, the circus came to nearby Kingsport (part of the Tri-Cities area in the northeast corner of Tennessee); an elephant named Mary went on a rampage and stomped to death one of her trainers. Somewhat along the lines of shooting a horse with a broken leg, it is (or was) common to kill such a pachyderm. Trouble is, no one in Kingsport had a gun big enough to do the job.

So they asked the folks in Erwin, which had a railroad yard crane big enough to hang an elephant, to, uh, hang an elephant. Erwin said, "Be glad to!" And so it came to pass on a crisp September day in 1916 that between 2,500 and 5,000 people, surely including every child in the valley, gathered to watch as they hanged Mad Mary (aka Big Mary, Crazy Mary) until dead from the crane at the Clinchfield Yard. [I have appended a photograph of the proceedings at the bottom of this post to satisfy the skeptics. If you are extremely squeamish, or an animal rights activist with no appreciation for history, please don't scroll too far.] The whey-faced lad who would become my paternal grandfather was in attendance, I am told. A stern message to elephants everywhere, I'm sure.

Anyway. It turns out the elephant in the Herald story wasn't a circus rampager, but a rather more subtle belligerent. According to the report, one Mrs. Kim was strolling through Children's Grand Park Zoo when she was knocked down by a blow on the head--seemingly from one of two fist-sized stones she found nearby. Apparently, the park isn't very busy on a Monday morning, because there was nobody else around, either to blame for throwing rocks, or to verify the events--except for a caged elephant, she said during police questioning.
Despite the dull pain in her head, Kim went back home after reporting the incident to the zoo's control office.
However, as her pain intensified, she decided to visit a hospital in the evening and was told the injury was worse than she had thought, for which she decided to hold the elephant responsible.
"No one else other than that elephant could have thrown those stones at me," Kim said to the police. "The park should take responsibility for neglecting to supervise the animal."

One hears about monkeys throwing their dung at gawkers, or the occasional tiger leaping out of a 16-foot enclosure, but this is a first, I think. On the other hand, doomed Mary was the pitcher in the circus baseball game routine, and could supposedly wield a bat well enough to make contact. So, the elephant trunk does more than trumpet and spout water.

Interesting, from a Korean cultural perspective, is the woman's "holding the elephant responsible." Korea is not a particularly litigious society; whereas in America, such a fusillade might soon involve Alan Dershowitz and Gerry Spence in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, such behavior seems rare here, based on what I know.

Alas, if she takes the elephant to court, I'm afraid the best she can hope for will be peanuts...

Warning - Strange Elephant Demise: This iconic photo of the death of Mad Mary has been around on the internet for years. I re-post it here purely for its historical value.

Big Mary hanged in Erwin TN, from www.justsickshit.com

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