York Town Square

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Of elephants, Nessie, Luther and Hannibal

I had one of those magic moments when everything I was reading converged.
Within a short period, I read about swimming elephants in two far different types of writing.
A York Daily Record article reported speculations that the Loch Ness Monster might have been an elephant that escaped from a traveling circus that visited that area of Scotland in the 1930s. The article explained when an elephant swims, it flattens out with its trunk above water — similar to photographs of Nessie… .

Then I ran across an entry from Martin Luther’s “Tabletalk” in which the great German theologian quotes early church father St. Gregory: “Gregory says, well and rightly, that the Holy Scripture is a stream of running water, where alike the elephant may swim, and the lamb walk without losing its feet.”
Now, Luther uses all kinds of earthy examples in his writings, but I never expected to read about swimming elephants.
Somehow, all of this made me think of a moment in York County’s past in which an elephant did not swim.
The Civil War was over, and York County struggled for normality. Residents looked forward to a visit by a traveling show — Thayer & Noyes Celebrated Circus. Hannibal, a 7,000-pound war elephant, insured for better than a $1 a pound, was the star of the circus.
York countians previously had caught a glimpse of the behemoth as he passed through town to another venue.
That time, with the Susquehanna River Bridge still out after it became a fiery casualty of war, Hannibal crossed the Susquehanna on a ferry boat without incident. He felt his way aboard the craft at Columbia and then stood firm and erect until his landing at Wrightsville.
A newspaper touted the elephant as the largest passenger ever carried on the ferry.
Perhaps the elephant caught a summer cold from all this activity.
Hannibal died shortly after his visit to York in Centreville, Pa.
He was 66.