In 1861, a two-year old calf was captured by a tribe of Arabian hunters in the plains of Ethiopia, on what may have been the banks of the Settite River. Later, this two-year old 40 inch calf would become an 11.6 foot 6.5 ton bull known world-wide as the "Children's Giant Pet".
Purchased by animal collector Johann Schmidt, he was resold to the menagerie at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. He was eventually called Jumbo, a combination of jumbe, a Swahili word for chief and jambo meaning hello.
In 1865, the Jardin des Plantes traded the young Jumbo to the Royal Zoological Society in London where Regent Park zookeeper Matthew Scott saw hope for Jumbo. Under Scott's care, he flourished. By age seven, Jumbo's daily intake included 200 pounds of hay, 1 barrel of potatoes, 2 bushels of oats, 15 loaves of bread, a slew of onions and several pails of water. He consumed a gallon or two of whiskey per day when Scott felt health concerns warranted it.
In 1880, P.T. Barnum was looking for a magnificent animal to add to his circus, "The Greatest Show on Earth", with co-partners James Bailey and James Hutchinson. That same year, Barnum purchased Jumbo from the Royal Zoological Society in London. The question still lingers why the Park Superintendent A.D. Bartlett decided to part with Jumbo. Maybe it was the hefty $10,000 offered by Barnum that swayed him. Despite widespread protests and legal attempts to invalidate Jumbo's sale, Barnum reigned victorious in 1882.
Please visit our Jumbo Exhibit.
To get Jumbo to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean would be the hardest problem yet to come. The handler hired to execute the move couldn't get the seven-ton Jumbo to bulge because he would stage "lie-ins" in the middle of the road rather than enter the wagon crate meant to carry him to the docks. Finally, long-time trainer Matthew Scott expedited the process and got Jumbo to enter the crate with no resistance, ultimately accompanying Jumbo to America. Jumbo was hauled to St. Katharine Dock by a team of ten huffing horses, hoisted aboard a barge, and ferried to the awaiting British steamship H.M.S. Assyrian Monarch.
When Jumbo arrived in New York on April 9, 1882, crowds of people watched as several circus horses and elephants rolled Jumbo's carriage to the Hippodrome, which later became Madison Square Garden.
After several months of appearances in the Hippodrome, Jumbo toured the United States and Canada by railroad with the Barnum and Bailey Circus. He rode from one location to another in a private car.
Tragedy awaited Jumbo in the town of St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada, on September 15, 1885. Following a performance, Matthew Scott led Jumbo and a tiny clown elephant dubbed "Tom Thumb" along railroad tracks to their car when an unscheduled express train appeared.
One popular version of events is that Jumbo saved Tom Thumb from the train and he himself was hit. As he lay dying, Jumbo reached out to Scott and drew him in with his trunk. Scott was grief stricken. More than 150 men were needed to roll Jumbo down the grade, where he died of massive injuries.
Barnum had Jumbo's hide mounted and his skeleton reassembled to be displayed with the traveling circus for two years. Jumbo's hide was donated to Tuft's University Museum in Boston, but was destroyed in 1975 when the museum burned. The skeletal remains are in the collection of N.Y. American Museum of Natural History.
Please visit our Jumbo Exhibit.
The Barnum Museum
820 Main Street
Hours: 11-3 Thur & Fri
The People's United Bank Gallery, located at the back of the building is open and free to the public to view the restoration and conservation process. The Barnum Museum's historic building remains closed to the public following tornado damage suffered on June 24, 2010.
Visit www.barnum-museum.org for more information.