York Town Square

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The day Jumbo screamed in North York – Elephant story Part II

York County resident Dave Yates read my blog-entry-turned-column in the York Sunday News and e-mailed his own elephant story.

But Dave’s story is heart-breaking so read on with caution … .

About 30 years ago, we lived at 415 North George Street in front of Small Athletic Field. We picked up our son (about 7 or 8 at the time) after work and arrived home.
After dinner, we retired to the back porch to chat with neighbors and as dark set in, we were startled to hear lions roaring and elephants trumpeting! Not exactly the kinds of noises we were accustomed to hearing as we looked out straining our eyes across the stone parking lot savanna that was Small Field in North York.
Out by the football field-house, we could make out the silhouette of large vehicles and off we went to investigate. It was a circus group in town for some event and their menagerie of animals were settling in for the night. Three elephants, if I remember correctly, and lots of other critters.
It was a balmy night with warm gentle breezes, so we had our doors and windows open to admit the welcome breezes. Quite the idyllic setting for a young lad of seven or eight. If we’d known what the next two days’ events were holding in store, we’d have left town.
The largest of the elephants became ill and that created quite a stir the next evening. By this time, everyone in the neighborhood had visited with the circus folks and the children were all captivated by having a zoo practically situated in the back yards. A large crowd gathered and Doc Hartenstine arrived to check on what must have been one of his most unusual patients!
Sometime after Doc left, the elephant collapsed onto its side and we were told (by the handler) that unless they could get it back on its feet, it would likely die. A large tow truck arrived – the kind used to haul big rigs – and we helped guide large straps under the elephant while its trainer/handler yelled instructions – and warning us to stay away from the trunk. Had we known the danger associated with what we were doing, we’d have remained a spectator!
Straps secured, the winch and boom strained under the heavy load. The elephant was not the least bit amused by being hoisted to its feet and let out an awful roar as it lunged forward towards the tow truck. The riggers had not been placed, which caused the tow truck to begin turning over – right where we were standing!
We immediately ran for safety and – fortunately for the tow truck and its operator – one of the circus tractor-trailer rigs was directly in the path. The elephant’s head and trunk smashed the cab’s window and the trunk immediately was used to decimate the interior of the cab. The scene was, to put it mildly, chaotic.
By evening’s end, the crowd had dispersed and the elephant lay on the ground – in obvious distress.The next day, the police were called in to dispatch the poor beast. The first we knew that was the outcome was that first gunshot fired and the elephant’s scream that immediately followed. That shot was followed by several more, and each time, the elephant would scream out in pain or fear – I’m not sure which.
Needless to say, our son was horrified by the unfolding events – as were we. We took him to his grandparents’ home in North York, but found out later they too could plainly hear each gunshot and beast’s scream that was repeated for what seemed like hours.
Like a train wreck or horrible accident, those of us who remained in the neighborhood watched from back yards and porches – many with tears streaming down their faces.
Someone finally arrived with a rifle with sufficient fire-power and put the poor beast out of its misery. The last we saw of that elephant, was its rather inglorious departure in the back of a dump truck.
None of us have ever forgotten that series of events, although the memory had been hiding in the recesses of my mind until Harry McLaughlin wrote about “The Day Jumbo Roared” and, now, your piece.