April 9 – Jumbo Day

Posted on April 9, 2017

Jumbo the elephant was probably one of the most famous real elephants ever (and by "real" I am distinguishing him from fictional characters such as Babar and Dumbo!), and he is probably also the only elephant to have inspired a word in the English language.
I guess the word "jumbo" isn't
ONLY in the English language!

The word he inspired was, of course, his name. Jumbo was a male African bush elephant, and he was between ten and thirteen feet tall (it's hard to sort out old claims, since we know that Jumbo's last owner, P.T. Barnum, was big on promotion and might have exaggerated the creature's size). 

Jumbo lived from 1860 to 1885. When he was a young calf, he was sold to an Italian animal dealer, who took him from his birthplace in Sudan to Egypt, then across the Mediterranean to Italy. Jumbo was sold to an animal dealer in Germany, then to a zoo in Paris, France, and THEN to a zoo in London, England, where he gave visitors rides, and finally to America.

Jumbo was so popular with Londoners that around 100,000 children wrote to Queen Victoria, begging her not to sell the elephant. (I'm pretty sure that the queen wasn't directly involved in the sale - so I imagine that the kids were begging her not to allow the London Zoo to sell her! Even for the price of $10,000 - which today would be $248,000!)

But the sale went through, and on this date in 1882, Jumbo arrived in New York City. Soon the Barnum & Bailey Circus was exhibiting him in Madison Square Garden. 

As I said before, Barnum was good at promotion. Soon the word "jumbo" entered the language to mean "huge" or "enormous." People would promote sandwiches or beverages as "Jumbo Size!"

Barnum made a profit on Jumbo right away - in the first ten days of Jumbo's time in New York, he made $30,000! And the first year, he brought in $1.5 million!

Sadly, Jumbo died in 1885. Barnum and others told an emotional story of Jumbo dying in an effort to save a young circus elephant named Tom Thumb from being hit by a locomotive. In at least some versions of the story, both Tom Thumb and Jumbo were struck by the locomotive and died. However, some accounts said that the train hit and killed Jumbo, and Tom Thumb only broke his leg. And, according to Wikipedia, Jumbo died by tripping and falling on a train track, and being impaled on his own tusk. In this account, he died instantly and then, being of course extremely difficult to move, he was struck by an unexpected locomotive.

In none of the accounts I read was there a report on the effect of the collision on the train locomotive or its driver. 

After Jumbo's death, a lot of weird stuff was found in its stomach. This included coins, keys, rivets, and even a police whistle! Jumbo's skeleton was donated to the American Museum of Natural History, the heart was sold to a university, and the hide was stuffed and displayed at the circus and, later, a Barnum & Bailey exhibit at another university.

Also on this date:

(A.K.A.) Finnish Language Day

National Library Week in the U.S. - April 9 through 15 

(2017 theme is “Libraries Transform”)

Plan ahead:

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