University of Rochester Library Bulletin: Jumbo

Volume III · Autumn 1947 · Number 1

In the 1880's a large African elephant named Jumbo was so frequently in the news that today one might wonder if some special significance was attached to the phenomenon of a large elephant at that time. The knowledge that P. T. Barnum was the owner of Jumbo for the last three years of that famous elephant's life would account for the mass of publicity that appeared, but it would not explain the reason for the tremendous interest which people of that time had in bigness. Barnum understood human psychology well, and profited from that knowledge in many instances, of which Jumbo's case was one. Our interest in Jumbo results from the fact that he was immortalized in Rochester. His enormous hide was stuffed and his massive skeleton mounted at Ward's Natural Science Establishment, under the direction of Henry A. Ward. Jumbo arrived in Rochester in many pieces, and through the genius of Professor Ward two Jumbos left the city to serve as monuments to the departed elephant. The story of Jumbo's mounting is told in large part in the letters from P. T. Barnum and his associates which are in the Ward Collection in the Library. They reveal enough of the character of the men involved and of the ways of the American public, to make the story worth summarizing here.

According to the reports published at the time of Jumbo's death, he was captured on the banks of the Settite River in Abyssinia in 1861, when he was probably only a year old. After his capture he began a long journey that took him from Abyssinia to Rochester. His first long stop was in Paris, at the Jardin des Plantes, to which he was sold in 1862. After three years in that institution he moved to the London Zoological Gardens; some say he was exchanged for a rhinoceros, others, that he was sold. Whatever the arrangement, he remained in London for eighteen years as one of the major attractions of the zoo. How great was the interest in him became apparent when P. T. Barnum bought him from the zoo in 1882 for $10,000, and it was known that he would be taken to America. Then the English public protested vociferously, demanding that he remain to delight English children of present and future generations. The matter came near to being an international incident, which only made Barnum more determined to bring him to the United States. He doubtless realized that he had received more than ten thousand dollars' worth of publicity before Jumbo had even stepped from the London zoo, and that the elephant would bring great profits to the circus. He explained that Jumbo was not a native Londoner and that American children ought not to be denied the privilege which English children had enjoyed for many years. Furthermore, it was stated by officials of the zoo that Jumbo was subject to periodic attacks of bad temper, and it was for that reason he was being sold. One can wonder at Barnum's courage in purchasing a dangerous elephant to parade with his circus; perhaps the excuse was taken lightly by the public, which also knew that the $10,000 must have had something to do with it. At any rate, Englishmen continued to protest Jumbo's removal, and Americans did not object to the admission of a dangerous elephant to this country.

After some difficulty Jumbo was persuaded to embark on the "Assyrian Monarch" on March 24, 1882. His faithful keeper, Matthew Scott, remained beside him throughout the loading and helped to overcome Jumbo's nervousness. It is also possible that whiskey, beer, and champagne kept Jumbo in the proper frame of mind to be hoisted from the dock to the deck of the ship, and also to pacify him during the rough voyage. Matthew Scott told reporters that Jumbo was accustomed to having a bucket of beer every day, and that he had given Jumbo as much as two gallons of whiskey at a single dose "for different complaints"; he also reported that a host of Jumbo's friends, including many of the nobility, came on board to see Jumbo before he sailed, bringing "all sorts of presents, fruits, cakes, and even champagne and oysters!"

In his own book about Jumbo, Scott later wrote, "Jumbo is a great 'teetotaler,' and if my temperance friends want a powerful illustration of a good, healthy, strong, and most powerful frame that practices habits of temperance. . .they may refer to my Jumbo as a specimen."

Jumbo arrived in New York on April 9 after a rough voyage, and went directly to Madison Square Garden, where he began his career with the circus. For the next three years he traveled through the United States and Canada with the circus, showing no signs of the dangerous proclivities mentioned at the time of his purchase. He became fully as popular with the American public as he had been with the British; more than a million American children were said to have ridden on his back. There was every reason to expect him to continue to bring joy to circus goers and profit to Barnum for many years to come, but the possibility of his death was not overlooked.

Henry A. Ward, whose Natural Science Establishment was adjacent to the University of Rochester campus, had been mounting specimens for Barnum for some time. One of the earliest Barnum letters in the Ward files is dated January 15, 1883, and reads as follows:

Winter Quarters Bridgeport, Ct. Jany 15th 1883

Dr Sir

We have sent you per Adams Express a dead ostrich & shall take it as a favour if you can inform us what you think was the cause of its death. The one named to you before was sent to the Columbia College N. Y. & in its throat was found a pc. of wood 7 in. long 2 in. wide & 1 in. thick. No wonder its throat was inflamed.

We Remain

Yours Truly

Barnum Bailey & Hutchinson

B. Fish


Later letters from Barnum and his associates show that Ward's Natural Science Establishment had become the chief agency for mounting birds and animals that had belonged to the circus. It is not surprising that Ward asked Barnum to promise him the job of mounting Jumbo, and also requested permission to use that promise as an advertisement, as the following letters show:

Bridgeport, Conn., Oct. 9, 1883

Prof. Ward

Dear Sir

On my return home I found your letter of Aug. 29. I shall have my managers understand that if we lose Jumbo (which Heaven forbid!) you must be telegraphed to immediately, & hope you will lose no time in saving his skin & skeleton. As to the other animals I will talk with them on their return at close of season - a fortnight hence.

Truly Yr.

P. T. Barnum

Bridgeport, Conn., Oct. 22, 1883

My dear Professor Ward

Thanks for your letter. I have sent copy of it to Bailey & Hutchinson. I suppose they would not want you to publish any hint that Jumbo can ever die - but I will agree to your using it as an advertisement provided Bailey & Hutchinson consent. If I live another year, I shall want to procure on reasonable terms as possible specimens of Natural History for a Museum connected with a College in the West.

V. T. Yr.

P. T. Barnum

Apparently the promise was not forthcoming, for two years later Ward must have written to Tufts College, where Barnum had established a museum, to get the backing of the college, and received this reply:

College Hill. Sep 1. 1885.

Dear Prof. Ward.

We fully expect to have the skin of Jumbo when he dies. Jumbo was excepted when the arrangement was made with the Smithsonian. I should not consider the Barnum Museum complete without this noble animal. It would be the greatest ornament that we could place in the Vestibule, near Mr. Barnum's bust. Our front door to the Museum is [blank] feet high. You can judge whether the stuffed Jumbo would go in. It is wide enough, I think. Probably it would be necessary to stuff the skin in the vestibule. I have not decided upon the skeleton yet but will endeavor to let you know soon. - I think your offer to Mr. Barnum was $75 in exchange or $50 in money. Would you object to letting the $50 go towards the skulls? -

Yours very truly.

John P. Marshall

Ward did not have much longer to wait. On the evening of September 15, 1885, Jumbo was struck by a train as he was leaving the circus grounds at St. Thomas, Ontario, and killed. Ward was summoned the following day and reached St. Thomas with two assistants on the seventeenth. According to the newspaper accounts it had taken two hundred men to move Jumbo's eight-ton body from the railroad tracks, which is some indication of the immensity of Ward's task. In addition to the problem of size, Jumbo's fame caused added complications. Relic seekers had done some damage before Ward arrived, and a policeman had been put on guard to prevent further mutilation. It took Ward, his assistants, and half a dozen butchers from St. Thomas, two days to dissect the elephant and prepare the hide and skeleton for shipment. The hide weighed 1,538 pounds, the bones 2,400 pounds. Coins of many kinds were found in Jumbo's stomach, and Ward was quoted as having said that "Jumbo was a bank all by himself." His stomach also contained rivets, a bunch of keys on a ring, a policeman's whistle, and various ornaments.

The work of mounting the hide and the skeleton was carried on at Ward's Natural Science Establishment in Rochester. Barnum agreed to pay $1‚200 for the job, further stipulating that "If extra tusks are required they are to be paid for by me." The problem of the tusks occasioned several letters. Barnum first thought it would be better to make them of wood. On September 26 he wrote Ward:

. . . I don't think it would help us much for a year or two to show anything but the skin stuffed, and by all means let that show as large as possible. It will be a grand thing to take all advantage possible in this direction! Let him show like a mountain! If we don't show skeleton for a year or two, then we had better have ivory tusks exactly like the original.

Please return me this letter with your ideas.

Yours truly

P. T. Barnum

It was originally estimated that it would require two months to complete the work, but it actually took six. A special building was built to house the project, and two of Ward's ablest assistants, Carl E. Akeley and William J. Critchley, devoted most of their time to it. Ward's diary shows that he himself gave a great deal of his time when he was in Rochester to the supervision of the work. He received many special requests while the work was in progress. One correspondent wanted to get some elephant fat, another wanted Jumbo's eyes, and still another his heart, which was advertised for $40. Casts of Jumbo's upper jaw and teeth were sent to the Army Medical Museum and to the British Museum. Since Jumbo's tusks were too badly damaged to be used, some slices were made as souvenirs. Ward sent one slice to Spencer F. Baird at the Smithsonian Institution, and another to Mrs. Barnum. The gift for Mrs. Barnum was sent to Barnum with a suggestion that the $1,200 to be paid Ward for the job of mounting Jumbo was not sufficient to cover the costs, but Ward's gift and letter didn't bring the result he desired.

N. Y. March 1st 1886

Dear Ward

Yours rec'd with the decorated slice from Jumbo's tusk for Mrs. Barnum, who will write you. I hope you will send me the other slice and I will send it to "The British Museum." I can do it so that the London reporters will publish it. If sent to Queen Victoria the fact will never be published - and ten to one her Majesty will be offended, because she was opposed to my having Jumbo. Your business directions about cars wagons etc. I hope you sent to my partners for I do nothing about such things. I shall send two of your monument placards to the British Museum with the slice.

Truly yours

P. T. Barnum

P.S. Please send me the other slice plain - no inscription whatever & send me a letter describing what it is, I will send your letter with the slice to British Museum & tell them what we would like to have inscribed on one side - leaving the other side blank for them to use as they like. Glad you was so thoughtful. My wife is delighted.


P.S. I was very sorry to receive your statement regarding the pecuniary result of your preparing the two specimens.

There will be no use in my showing your letter to my partners. They will be sure to say as I do, that "this is a matter of business." Your offer of $1200 was submitted to my partners & accepted.

Now I cannot go to them and say you miscalculated the expenses, for they would reply, "that is not our affair. If he had miscalculated the other way, so that he made hundreds of dollars more than he expected, would he have given it to us?" They & I would no doubt regret that you made a mistake, but it is no fault of ours, and you will surely gain thousands of dollars through the celebrity which the affair will give to you & your business. I am dear sir your friend

P.T. Barnum

The completion of the mounting of Jumbo in the two forms was the occasion for a spurt of publicity arranged by Barnum's press agents. On February 26 a group of reporters inspected the two Jumbos. A delegation of eight had come from New York City and others came from upstate cities, making a sizable party. Ward had inquired whether he should provide a spread for the guests, and received assurance from Charles Stow, one of Barnum's press agents, that this would be unnecessary.

. . . As the reporters are our guests, permit me to suggest that the expense of a spread on your part may with entire propriety be dispensed with, as Mr. Hamilton will see that their thirsty souls are bathed in grape juice, corn exlixer [sic] ‚ &c. In order to save yourself trouble, I think it would be better for you to meet the delegation at the Powers House; which will be pleasanter and more advantageous than a hubbub introduction in the depot.

Will get you the names of the delegation as soon as they arrive. Have also telegraphed you.

Very truly yours,

Chas. Stow

If the reports published in the newspapers are reliable, the unveiling of the two Jumbos was a great success. The reporters apparently enjoyed Ward as much as they did his handiwork. As one wrote, "Once beside the monstrous form, Prof. Ward, in his remarkably interesting manner related incidents of his experience with Jumbo which held the attention of his hearers." Although relieved of the necessity of providing food for the visitors, Ward did serve refreshments which were described by the reporter from the Buffalo Courier:

"Professor Ward is a very enthusiastic scientist, and full of novel ideas. In preparing the tusks he accumulated about a pound and a half of the ivory finely powdered, and in honor of the occasion he took this substance to the cook at the Powers hotel with instructions to use it in the composition of jelly. This was done, and the journalists of course sampled the unique dish, and some of Jumbo did they thus assimilate.

…His visitors of Friday had their pleasure increased by the presentation of pieces of the ivory of Jumbo's tusks, with inscriptions to authenticate them."


Unfortunately the reporters' visit did not result in as much publicity as the insatiable Barnum had anticipated; his disappointment is evident in the letter written by his business representative on March 3, 1886.

Bridgeport, Conn.

Wednesday Mch 3d 1886

Prof: H. A. Ward, Rochester, N. Y.

Dear Sir: -

Your postal of Mch 1st received. While the papers here were not quite equal to our expectations, still under the circumstances they did very well. The Tribune contained 3/4 of a column, the Star 1/2 column, Despatch 1/2 column, Herald 1/4 column, News 1/4 column, Journal 1/4 column, World, Times, Mercury each about twenty lines and the Sun nothing. This state of affairs was brought about by the publication in the World here, of all the facts and figures relating to the subject, which premature publication prevented the other papers from using it, owing to the disinclination of Editors here using anything a day old. The leaking out of the facts used by the World was done in Rochester, and telegraphed to N. Y. It was not much but it was just enough to interfere with its publication in the other papers to the extent we had hoped.

Yours etc.

P. T. Barnum & Co.

per Hamilton

A later letter from Charles Stow explained that Barnum did not blame Ward for the leak.

Ward's diary has the following notation opposite the date of March 4, 1886: "Jumbo-stuffed, and mounted skeleton-left today for Bridgeport." With this brief entry Ward brought to a close the work on Jumbo, but correspondence about Jumbo continued, and Ward received many other specimens for mounting from Barnum during the next two years. Although he felt that he was underpaid for the work done on Jumbo, he must have been gratified at the publicity Ward's Natural Science Establishment received. There can be little doubt that the favorable notices were justified, for the results of Ward's work are still on public display, the mounted hide at Tufts College, the skeleton at the American Museum of Natural History. Though Jumbo's life was short, as elephants' lives go, his fame will doubtless outlive that of any other elephant of his time, thanks in part to Henry A. Ward and Ward's Natural Science Establishment.