Ghost Stories and Tall Tales of the American South

Murderous Mary


True story of the Sparks World Famous Shows circus and the public hanging of “Murderous” Mary, a circus elephant. Written by Craig Dominey.

WARNING: Some images below might be disturbing

Before the days when television, DVD players and the internet beamed countless entertainment options into even the most remote American communities, the traveling circus was small town America’s ticket to worlds of magic and wonder. Each year, young and old alike would excitedly fill the streets to watch the parade of gaily colored wagons, clowns, performers and animals roll into town. As railroad systems spread into the outermost corners of rural America, more circuses of all sizes fought for the hard earned dollars of American families.

Erwin, Tennessee

But when Sparks World Famous Shows, a mid-sized, 15-rail car circus, rolled into the mountainous community of Erwin, Tennessee on September 13, 1916, they promised a bizarre spectacle that no circus had ever offered before. After the matinee performance, they promised Erwin’s citizens a free, public hanging of who was then the most notorious killer in Tennessee, “Murderous Mary…”

…A circus elephant.

What you are about to read is a true story. Some events leading up to the hanging of Murderous Mary have been clouded over time by faulty memories, the oral tradition and outright lies and exaggerations. To this day, some of Erwin’s citizens refuse to even discuss the incident.

But there is little doubt that an elephant was hung in the Erwin rail yards on September 13, 1916 – an event that would forever label this little known community as the “Town That Hung the Elephant.”

Throughout his life, Charlie Sparks, owner of Sparks World Famous Shows, knew how to please an audience. He was the son of English music hall performers and, by age eight, was performing as part of the highly regarded Jack Harvey Minstrels as a drummer and World Champion Clogger. When his father died, he sang and danced on street corners to support his widowed mother.

Charlie’s circus days began when, during a tour stop in Utah, he and his mother met a vaudeville performer named John H. Weisman at the hotel where they were staying. Weisman was quite impressed with young Charlie’s performing skills, and quickly befriended both Charlie and his mother. They became such good friends that, when Charlie’s mother fell seriously ill with tuberculosis, she asked Weisman to care for Charlie. Shortly thereafter, Weisman not only adopted Charlie, but took the unusual step of changing his own last name to Sparks – perhaps because it was a more “circus sounding” name.

Father and son performed together as an after show act until 1890, when John H. organized his first small circus, the Sparks and Allen Wagon Show. It was later renamed John H. Sparks Virginia Shows and, for a small horse and wagon operation, was quite successful. In 1901, when Charlie was 25, his father grew weary of touring and bought a hotel near Winston-Salem, North Carolina, adding a fishing lake and a small zoo. In an ironic twist, John H. was bitten by a lion cub in this zoo, causing an infection that would lead to his death two years later.

This tragedy left Charlie in full control of the circus. He knew that, for his show to thrive, it had to latch onto the vast network of railroads that were spreading across the country at that time. Sometime after 1903, he moved the show on the rails, starting with just one rail car, performing horses and ponies, and draft stock.

Baby Mary at Circus

As the railroad grew, so did the show, which was later renamed Sparks World Famous Shows. By 1916, it had ballooned into a successful, 15-car circus with clowns, acrobats, horses, lions and elephants. Some of Charlie’s performers were so skilled that mighty Barnum and Bailey Circus tried to steal them away. Charlie became a trusted and well-respected figure in the circus world, and was a common sight strolling down the street in his Stetson hat and cane, a smoldering cigar in his mouth.

Without a doubt, the star of Sparks World Famous Shows was Mary, a giant Asian elephant. She was advertised on Sparks posters as “The Largest Living Land Animal on Earth,” weighing “over 5 tons” and standing “3 inches taller than Jumbo,” the star elephant of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Crowds throughout the country roared with delight as Mary performed tricks like standing on her head, playing musical instruments and pitching a baseball. But it was her size that awed many people from rural communities who had never seen an animal this large or exotic. Mary was valued anywhere from $8,000 to $20,000, and was the primary reason many people came to the show.

But Mary was more than just a performer to Charlie Sparks. His father had purchased Mary in 1898 when she was four years old, and she had been the family pet ever since. After Charlie married Addie Mitchell, the circus’s head cook and animal doctor, Mary, in essence, became the child that this childless couple never had. Charlie firmly instructed his employees to be kind, gentle and respectful to all his animals, especially his beloved Mary.

Despite the show’s success, it still lagged behind its major competitor in the South, John Robinson’s Four Ring Circus and Menagerie, which boasted 42 railroad cars and larger numbers of performers and animals. Competition between the two circuses and other traveling shows became so fierce that each resorted to unique tactics to separate itself from the others.

Being a family-owned circus, Sparks World Famous Shows advertised itself as a “100% Sunday School Circus,” meaning that it was fair and honest with the public, and allowed no short changing of customers. To avoid tipping off rival shows, Charlie kept his routes under his hat, and rarely advertised in circus trade papers. Mere days before his show arrived in town, his scouts would plaster the area with colorful posters.

On the morning of September 11, 1916, before the circus arrived in the small mining community of St. Paul, Virginia, a local hotel worker named Walter “Red” Eldridge spotted one of these posters. He was about to change the life of the Sparks circus forever.

To this day, little is known about Red Eldridge except that he was between 23 and 38 years of age, worked at the Riverside Hotel in St. Paul and, when the Sparks circus arrived, approached head elephant trainer Paul Jacoby for a job. Despite Eldridge’s inexperience, Jacoby hired him as an under keeper of the elephants. Eldridge’s job responsibilities included watering the elephants and preparing them for the parades and shows. For the next few days, Eldridge was instructed according to Sparks’ “gentling care” philosophy when it came to the animals.

After the show, Eldridge left his job at the hotel and traveled south with the circus to their next stop in Kingsport, Tennessee. Kingsport then looked like a town out of the “Wild West.” The Carolina, Clinchfieid and Ohio Railroad (known simply as the “Clinchfield”) had recently been completed, linking Kingsport with the coal fields to the north and turning it into an industrial boom town. Workers streamed into Kingsport, with many having to stay in temporary tent shelters in the center of town. The streets were muddy and clogged with wagons, wild animals and crowds.

On September 12, Kingsport was putting on its first county fair, and Sparks World Famous Shows was going to be a part of it. Crowds from the surrounding hills came into town, swelling Kingsport’s already overcrowded streets. Sometime during the day, crowds lined the roadsides to watch “Mighty Mary” and her fellow elephants – Queen, Topsy, and the two babies, Ollie and Mutt – march through town, trunk to tail.

What happened next has been debated for years, but the most popular version of the story is that the elephants were being led to a watering ditch between shows. Eldridge used a bull hook – a stick with a hook on its end – to guide Mary, but had been warned in his training to nudge her gently and not to provoke her.

According to this story, sometime during the procession, Mary suddenly stopped. Several eyewitnesses claimed that she had spotted a piece of watermelon on the ground and was reaching down to grab it with her trunk. Eldridge forgot his training and roughly prodded her with the stick. Enraged, Mary suddenly grabbed Eldridge with her trunk, lifted him in the air, and flung him against what some claim was a drink stand. Then, according to eyewitness accounts, she stomped over and, with her massive foot, crushed Eldridge’s head like a ripe melon.

The crowds screamed and ran for their lives. Some say that a local blacksmith fired shots at Mary, but the bullets bounced off her thick hide. Hearing the screams, Charlie Sparks rushed over and put his arm around Mary’s trunk, calming her down. He then saw the mangled body of Red Eldridge, the magnitude of Mary’s actions suddenly apparent.</p> <p>But what was even more frightening was the chant coming from the crowd. Anger had burned away the fear in many of the onlookers. Now their voices rang out in unison: “Kill the elephant!”

Kingsport officials quickly “arrested” Mary and staked her by the county jail, where more onlookers gathered around her. Meanwhile, Charlie Sparks and his staff had a gut-wrenching decision to make concerning Mary’s fate.

In those days, “rogue” elephants who injured or killed someone could quietly have their names changed and be sold to another circus. But the story of Eldridge’s gruesome death had spread like wildfire throughout northeastern Tennessee. The newspapers had already nicknamed the elephant “Murderous Mary,” and claimed that she had killed before. The mayor of nearby Johnson City, the circus’s next stop, had banned Sparks World Famous Shows from setting foot in the city as long as Mary was with them, and more cities were almost certainly to follow. What’s worse, it was rumored that a lynch mob was on its way to Kingsport to kill Mary – armed with an old Civil War cannon.

Charlie was a smart businessman, and he knew that, if he didn’t satisfy the public’s desire for swift justice, his show could be financially ruined. But his final decision ultimately came down to his concern for public safety. “A human’s life is something I don’t want charged against me,” he later claimed in a 1924 interview. “If people in the business get hurt, that’s our lookout. But with an outsider – that’s different.”

With great reluctance, Charlie decided that Mary had to be put to death publicly. But how? Shooting her in the four soft spots on her head would be both difficult and dangerous with the large crowds that would certainly gather around to watch. Mary was too smart to eat food laced with cyanide, and there wasn’t enough electricity in that part of Tennessee to electrocute her. Even more gruesome scenarios were brought up and quickly dismissed.

Execution Train

Finally, he decided that the only “humane” way to execute Mary would be to hang her. Clinchfield Railroad had huge, 100-ton derricks that they used to unload lumber off their freight cars. If these derricks could handle those heavy items, they could surely handle a five-ton elephant.

But then more problems arose for Sparks. The summer of 1916 had brought torrential rains that caused floods and wash outs all over the mountains. Clinchfield refused to send a derrick car all the way to Kingsport when an emergency might require it south over the Blue Ridge Mountains. If Charlie wanted to use a derrick car, he would have to take his circus south to Clinchfield’s headquarters and repair facilities in Erwin, Tennessee.

And so, on the morning of September 13, the circus train carrying Mary and the rest of Sparks World Famous Shows chugged south toward Erwin, and that city’s date with history.

Erwin in 1916 had been transformed by the Clinchfield Railroad from an isolated mountain hamlet of about 500 people into a boom town of over 2,000. Clinchfield imported hundreds of skilled workers for its repair facilities, and the newly relocated Blue Ridge Pottery employed many more. Like Kingsport, Erwin had a “western flavor,” with muddy streets, boardwalks for sidewalks, and many workers with disposable incomes eager for entertainment and spectacle.

Sparks World Famous Shows pulled into Erwin on a dreary morning. An all night rain had turned the ground into a sticky quagmire, and drizzle continued throughout the day. They would first put on an unscheduled performance without Mary that day – but it was only a sideshow for what was to come. Several eyewitnesses claim to have spotted Mary chained outside the Sparks tent, swaying back and forth nervously, seemingly sensing that something was wrong.

Mary Lead To Train

After the show, thousands of people from Erwin and surrounding areas rushed over to the rail yard. They filled every available boxcar, engine and tower, jostling with each other for the prime viewing spots. Some Erwin citizens and Sparks performers couldn’t bear to watch the execution, and quickly fled the scene.

In an attempt to calm Mary, Charlie decided to have her walk to the derrick with the other elephants, trunk to tail, like they did most every day. But several eyewitnesses claim that Mary didn’t appear fooled for, according to them, she hesitated several times and trumpeted loudly.

When Mary reached the derrick, some circus roustabouts quickly chained her legs to the rail to keep her still. The other elephants were led away out of sight range of the horrible event that was to come. Meanwhile, about 500 yards down the track, another group of roustabouts and railroad laborers were hastily digging a large grave with a steam shovel.

An eerie hush fell across the crowd as one of the roustabouts threw the derrick’s 7/8-inch chain around Mary’s neck, fitted the end through a steel ring, and signaled the derrick operator to lift her. The operator threw the handle forward, the winch squealed and the chain tightened around Mary’s neck. She struggled as her front feet slowly lifted off the ground.</p> <p>Several eyewitnesses claimed that the roustabouts forgot to release Mary’s ankle chains as she was lifted, and they could hear the gruesome sound of her tendons being torn.

Mary Hanging

Suddenly, a loud crack shattered the silence. Mary fell to the ground with a loud thud. The neck chain had broken! The crowd screamed and started running away, fearful that this “mad elephant” would kill them all. But Mary sat stunned on the railroad track like a giant jack rabbit, the fall having injured her gravely.

When order was restored, a roustabout climbed up Mary’s back and attached a heavier chain around her neck. Mary fought less this time as the derrick hoisted her into the air again. The chain held, and within a few minutes, Mary fell limp and died.

Before Mary was buried, a photograph was taken for posterity. Although Argosy Magazine later claimed that this photo was a fake, most researchers agree that it is indeed real, although noticeably touched up due to the foggy weather conditions.

With nothing left to see, the crowd dispersed. Mary was lowered off the derrick and buried in her makeshift grave. The other elephants were led back to the circus train. According to historical articles on the Sparks circus, the elephants trumpeted loudly as they were taken away, sensing that Mary was missing. These same articles claim that it took several performances for them to adjust to Mary’s sudden absence.

One of the more persistent and bizarre stories surrounding this event is that, in an attempt to reclaim some of his financial losses, Charlie Sparks ordered his roustabouts to dig Mary up and cut off her tusks for a touring exhibit. This highly doubtful story is made even more so by the fact that Asian elephants don’t even grow tusks. And, if the picture of her hanging is to be believed, then it’s obvious that Mary never had tusks at the time of her death.

Mary's Body Taken Away

Another story claims that the Associated Press asked Charlie Sparks to dig up Mary and hang her again for a photograph. Again, this is another story that is placed in the “highly doubtful” category.

The story of Mary’s execution occasionally pops up in magazines such as Playboy and the National Enquirer. It was even used as a question on the game show Jeopardy!

But the exact spot where Mary was buried remains a mystery to this day. The railroad now belongs to CSX, and there is no marker or memorial to be found. Because of the embarrassment and shame later-day Erwin residents felt because of this event, some city leaders would like to keep it that way.

An ironic footnote to this story is that Middle Tennessee now has its own elephant sanctuary. The Elephant Sanctuary, located about 65 miles southwest of Nashville in Hohenwald, contains 100 acres of designated grounds for sick, old and needy elephants to roam in peace, as well as heated barns containing comfortable stalls.

Perhaps if such an organization had been around in Mary’s time, it could have provided an alternative to the gruesome spectacle that took place that rainy September day and forever linked Erwin, Tennessee and “Murderous Mary” in American history.


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>Where Did This Story Come From?

Erwin, TN

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Erwin, TN 36.006895, -82.290344 Stories: Murderous MarySite of the tragic \"Murderous Mary\" elephant hanging in 1916. Erwin is the county seat of Unicoi County, TN, known locally as “The Valley Beautiful,” located in the mountains of upper east Tennessee. Erwin is a historic railroad town also known today for its apple crops.




85 Responses to “Murderous Mary”


cruel and barbaric…i wonder if there’s any truth in it?

Robbie Scifres:

How awful, careless, and idiotic. Hang and elephant? Why didn’t someone try to let her feet loose, or stop the crane until her feet could be freed? It was sheer torture for the animal – it couldn’t happen today without some one taking responsibility for it.

heather street:

That’s horrible. I wouldn’t doubt it’s true though, humans have done worse to each other let alone animals..

Sandy List:

What a horrifying story. Horrible, horrible–humans are supposed to be wiser guardians than that. What a terrible end for an animal who gave and gave all of her life, and who was carelessly put in custody of a cretin who had no understanding of how to treat her. What a terrible betrayal of trust. Horrible. Horrible.


wow this is beyond animal cruelty this is easily possible because humans do worst to our own kind this is the worst thing ive ever heard of and they should have blamed red eldridge because he provoked her and that was extremely inhuman because when humans were hanged it almost instantly snapped their necks this was just twisted.


POOR MARY! 🙁 I LOVE elephants. HOW could they. This is a horrible tale of animal cruelty. :*(


that was cruel! im going to study to be a vet in a few years and that was
disturbing. why would you hang her a 2nd time if she had already broken some limbs??? you really expect her to kill someone again? :C


That makes me SICK. How can humans be so cruel? It’s not like Mary was so murderous creature.


That is so cruel and barbaric. How could they do such a thing!

Erica Hester:

i hated that it made me sick……………………………………………!


these people where soooooooo SICK and I thought Charlie loved Mary :(~

Robbie Scifres:

I agree, wasn’t Mary supposed to be the “child they never had?” I would hate to have been his “child”. In his place I would have moved heaven and earth to protect Mary. Financial gain or not I would not have done it. This more than any other story I have ever heard makes me ill and gives me bad dreams – I have heard it before. Even the movie “Psycho” didn’t affect me this way. Robbie


This is sick – it made me cry 🙁

Julia Simpson:

Somehow I believe this story. Humans Are filled with such conciet that we believe we do no wrong and that our way is the humane way. We as a species have the the most cruel, abusive and obcene ways of handling things. We kill enslave and torture eachother and the beautiful things around us, for pleasure. Do elephants have guns? do elephants beat there children? Would anything out there besides us make people slaves because of the color of their skin or their religous beliefs? sometimes i am sickened and embarrassed to be a human. We are a destructive, disgusting race. and we suck at upholding our own views of a free country.


omg! thats scary and very mean,thats the worst thing to ever do to an animal!!!! i hate the ppl who did that!!!


I hope those that did this are hanging in hell, with their feet chained to the ground.
This is an unforgivable crime to do this to an elephant.


This made me cry. How could anyone stand there and watch that? I prayed that these people are forgiven and repented before they died. I really hope that the poor animal did not suffer as much as you have portrayed. If the people did not repent, I hope they saw that elephant and heard her every night when they went to bed. Hopefully, they couldn’t sleep and thought about what animals THEY were.


this is not the only case..thomas edison killed an elephan with electrocution..


please tell me this didnt happen. OMG he used a hook on her just because she wanted a watermelon? no wonder she did it. i say it was justifiable. she had every right


Crystal-Im guessing he was very shocked and just used a hook w/o thinking.
Pella-Hell?That’s..harsh.This was before they had alot of knowledge about everything.She did kill a person,and though it was by accident,they may have not seen it that way.They may have not seen it as a crime-More like taking Mary’s life in exchange for her taking the guy’s life.

This story is sad,but I think it’s true too.


Somehow I believe this story. Humans Are filled with such conciet that we believe we do no wrong and that our way is the humane way. We as a species have the the most cruel, abusive and obcene ways of handling things. We kill enslave and torture eachother and the beautiful things around us, for pleasure. Do elephants have guns? do elephants beat there children? Would anything out there besides us make people slaves because of the color of their skin or their religous beliefs? sometimes i am sickened and embarrassed to be a human. We are a destructive, disgusting race. and we suck at upholding our own views of a free country.
It was an elephant.A person was killed.It was 1916.1916,jesus!They didn’t know alot about the animal.This was before they had technology.How did they know the elephant did it by accident??

WTF.Some of that is true,and some is offensive.Please rant somewhere else!Go on some feelings-sharing site,don’t post here!Believe we do no wrong?Alot of people know when they do wrong.


mean guy poor mary


How digusting! People of the world are so pathetic and petty when it comes to money and entertainment. I just can’t believe anybody would go to such extremes for the use of so called “entertainment” purposes. What really makes me boil inside is that they called Mary “murderous” when in reality they were the ones who killed her!


I guess if I lived in Erwin, I would be too ashamed to talk about it either. If she was to be executed, the most humane way would be with a gun. If a guy can climb on her back TWICE to encircle a chain, somebody could’ve climbed up there and shot her.


Only the Americans can hang roosters and elephants!


Sadly, the story is very true. I live in a neighboring town to Erwin TN. (No, not in Kingsport)… There are well documented pictures and countless, reliable, eye witness stories of the event that took the elephants life.

keep in mind, that the residents of this small town had nothing to do with the decision (or the method to be used on the animal) Rather it was thrust upon them by another town’s city officials who demanded justice (and her owner who willingly agreed). The people involved in her execution was NOT from Erwin, but with the circus and the (out of town) equipment operators.

Every September the local papers tell the story or Mary, complete with pictures and details of that dreadful day.

Sad.. very sad.


She got what was coming a life for a life.
Thats justice.

2 degrees. - Evil Conservatives- Politics, Talk Radio, Gop, and 2008 Election!:

[…] of seperation, but some of my great whatever they are got to take down "Murderous Mary" Murderous Mary   __________________ – Spoons made Rosie O'Donnell fat. […]


Can you imagine what Mary’s last day was like? Confusion for not being in the show yet hearing it going on. Anxiety from the greater than normal amount of attention she was getting. Add to that that animals pick up on stress and anxiety being carried by people around them and she must have been really upset by that point. Then being led to the rail yard by circus employees she no doubt trusted. Finally feeling that chain first tighten around her and begin to pull upwards slowly. Torture as her leg feels like it is being ripped off of her and her oxygen is cut off. Anxiety turns to fright which then turns to panic when she realizes something is wrong and unable to do anything about it. If she could talk she would no doubt simply be asking “why are you doing this to me?” Then falling which injures her severely. Despite the pain, she would probably have been happy to see Charlie again for comfort and protection. Instead someone that she probably didn’t see attaches a new chain and the process starts again. Eventually the anxiety, fear and panic fades when she eventually looses consciousness. What a horrible end- all the while the elephant never understood what it had done wrong or why the humans she trusted were treating her like this.


i am from tennessee, and this was a horrible mistake and all but, it was a long time ago, and we have learned from our mistakes. everyone should just put the mary story to rest in peace…. R.I.P Mary the elephant

100% WTF:

That story was utterly disturbing and heart-numbing. I’m going to go watch Christian the Lion on YouTube again to feel better.


That’s so cruel..poor elephant. She didn’t know any better..RIP 🙁


To Someone: A life for a life? I guess you are a vegetarian, guiltless of any killing anything?

jasmine heath:

poor elefannt 🙁


This has made me so angry I can barely function. Seriously. That town should never be allowed to forget what their forebears did. Fuck ’em all.

Hideous abuse of an animal since her birth. HIDEOUS, EVIL, EXPLOITATIVE.

I’m away to throw up…


the guy on top of my is gay^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
it made me so angry dude shut up!!


lol dude^^^^



Buk Lau:


Sonic the hedgehog:

I thought this would be bloody because of the warning but it was still an awesome story i just feel sorry for the elephants in this story POOR ELEPHANTS

Sonic the hedgehog:

but Toby:
maybe they didnt have guns back then

Sonic the hedgehog:

Oh My Gosh she hung an elephant ….. wait how do you do that and i didnt thik that it was possible to do that you ………can you even do that gosh she really was merderous

Sonic the hedgehog:

oppd i wrote that wrong o well


This is tragic. There had to have been a more humane way to euthanize her. Too smart to eat cyanide? I say nay.


Sad to ay this is a true story. My family is from this are and my grandmother was 6 years old when this happened. She would tell us this story when were were kids!


I don’t care what anybody says, just because it was back then doesn’t mean they didn’t know any better. I’m sure they knew this was a horrible act of cruelty and that she would suffer a terrible end. However, the crowd shouting ‘Kill the elephant’ and the public demanding her death shows how uncivilized they were. Although we now have animal interest groups that fight for our precious cargo, even today, there continues to be unbelievable acts of cruelty allover the world against men and creatures. Only man is capable of this….animals don’t start wars; animals don’t kill for the thrill and hang trophy heads on their walls, or for stupid male enhancing products. Most animals in captivity will injure or kill because some human has mistreated/tortured them. And you can’t hold that against them.


I hate that I love animals it was not her flate she killed that guy it was his flate he hit her with the skck.They did not have to hang her the poeple made her mad all the time.POOR POOR POOR MARY. I hate who ever had to hang her and I feel sorry for that familly’s pet and that man who got her when he was 4 year’s old.


I cant believe some of you people. The owner didn’t want to kil her, had it not been so public he would have sold her quietly. Not only that, but rumors were spread that she had killed before (obviously told by his competetors to further ruin him) fueling the paranoia and fear of her.

And no snow leapord, the didn’t do it intentionally. If they had, they would have repeatedly shot at her body until she died, or burried her alive, or broke her legs somehow. They hung her. The didn’t know it would go wrong. You are such a moron.

Moonlit street | Mountbattenwin:

[…] Murderous Mary : Weird True Stories – The Moonlit RoadWeird true story of the Sparks World Famous Shows circus and the public hanging of "Murderous" Mary, a circus elephant. […]

Moonlit street | Alirazashaikh:

[…] Murderous Mary : Weird True Stories – The Moonlit RoadWeird true story of the Sparks World Famous Shows circus and the public hanging of "Murderous" Mary, a circus elephant. […]


creepy poor elephant


@Anna….pardon me? Do your research, you idiot! They DID repeatedly shoot her – 5 times to be exact. Her owner said the gun wasn’t big enough. When that didn’t work, they tried electrocuting her and that didn’t quite work either. Then they had a hairbrained idea to tie her between two trains that would travel in opposite directions and dismember her. Now, you’re absolutely sure they didn’t do anything intentionally? You really think they didn’t know the previous attempts to kill her were painful? Really? Please. And by the way, one of her legs was broken during the hanging…and they didn’t think this was torture?


I am from Erwin TN, and not one word is ever mentioned about this except as jokes. *Putting us on the map* I find it very weird that no one says that her burial site is unknown. Most the town knows, It is called the drive in, I have smoke so much marijuana on good ol’ mary’s grave. The area is about the length of 4 cars, and around 7 wide. Kids go there because it is surrounded by trees now and is a straight place to smoke. Most unknowing that they stand on top of a 5ton elephant. Erwin was just the place with the crane.


Omg, is this really true?! I still can’t comprehend how so many people acted like barbarians back in the day. killing animals, treating people like animals.. when will it ever end?!

The Day They Hanged An Elephant - Humor Times:

[…] hung from a 100-ton Clinchfield railroad crane car, in the little town of Erwin, Tennessee. ‘Murderous Mary’ had killed a man, and for that she had to die. Shooting her in the four soft spots on her head […]


I think there are’nt a lot of hunters posting here. It is a tragic story, but a human life was lost, and animal life is not above human life. I suspect some of the same people posting here go to gruesome websites out of curiosity. Fortunately I don’t have to, I live in the Middle East. Wish I were in Erwin TN right now… ;]


A fantastic song by a band called Them Bird Things about Mary can be heard at youtube. It’s called “Pachyderm Nightmare”!


this story as it is told here is clearly the fault of the humans involved; an inexperienced caretaker who knew nothing about elephants, particularly mary & what she was accustomed to, is charged w/ mary’s care, the absolute lack of sympathy or humanity of the crowd, the betrayal of mary by her ‘owner’ & the brutal means of execution told here are tragic & shameful but i wouldn’t blame this town. it didn’t happen there, the crowd chanting for her death were not these people & even if they were, they’re long dead….i wouldn’t blame some one’s great grand kid if their ancestor punched me in the head, would you….HOWEVER anyone defending the actions of any players that were involved…gth you’re demented. r.i.p. mary et. all


This is an awful story. I understand the business aspect of it. And the man’s life was ended by her. But really? He was told ‘Do Not Be Aggressive’. It was his fault to began with. Would anyone want to be poked and prodded with a stick with a hook on the end? She just wanted a piece watermelon. Was that so wrong? I mean, really. How much time would’ve been lost if she could’ve eat that? Five? Ten minutes? I’m ashamed to say I live in Kingsport. And even more ashamed to say that I live near Erwin. Or that I’ve even been to Erwin.

Moral of the story? Do not hire people who are inexperienced when it comes to potentially dangerous animals. They don’t know what they’re doing, and no one wins if they screw up.
R.I.P. Sweet Mary.

Debbie Bowling:

My grandfather had one of the original pics of this an yes it did happen! He retired. From clinchfield railroad, but this happened when he was a young boy about 12. It bothered it him too. That picture hung in his room the rest of his life, he shared that story with us kids an our children still talk about that picture scareing. Them when they were little. I have the picture now an will pass it down with the story too.


Debbie, we’d love to see that photo if you don’t mind sharing!


I hope the ones who did this are rotting in hell!!! Because that is where they belong! I only wish I had been alive in 1916. R.I.P. SWEET MARY!

jd wolff:

whats not widely known is that damn animal also killed my great,great grandpappy “redly wolff”.


This was a great story. I believe it is a folk tale and that The “murderous” elephant was never hung. Some parts may be true but the hanging was probably a rouse to qual the angry mob.


Thanks Patrick, but it did happen – many pictures and accounts.


At a time in history where men were still publicly lynched, I can believe they could do the same to an elephant. I’m so glad this could not happen today, but animal cruelty lives on, just typically with less fanfare.


What miserable, small-minded people these hicks must have been! Elephants are amazing animals — much brighter and more social than the pieces of sh*t who killed her! Elephants do NOT belong in circuses — no animals do. I hope these murdering pigs are burning in Hell — perhaps they died slow, miserable deaths …. I certainly hope so!!!!


This is you so called white folk’s legacy. You hang black men, you hang animals, you kill kill kill for sport. You love blood for sport. You are the biblical edomites (Edom, Esau, Idumea) and the Universal Laws of Justice will eventually come into play on your posterity. Many of you are reincarnated murderers from the jim crow past. Here is what the scriptures say will happen to the lot of you in the coming future.

18 And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall kindle in them, and devour them; and there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau; for the LORD hath spoken it.

You are the ones who destroy everything, you pollute Outter space, you kill the earth, you kill the animals and you kill people for sport.

Revelation 11:18
And the nations were angry , and thy wrath is come , and the time of the dead, that they should be judged , and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.

Good bye devils!


Seriously Obadiah, no black people have ever done violent acts? *snort*
The problem is too many HUMANS are violence loving, black white and every other color. Why keep spreading discord?


I’m from kingsport tn and know people whose relatives saw it done it’s definitely a true stoty. My grandpa thinks one of his relatives saw the elephant kill red.


I think people should remember one bad apple in the bunch doesn’t make the whole bushel bad. I am Cherokee,Blackfoot, white, and Irish. I don’t come down on the whites and blacks who wiped out entire Indian tribes. I hate what happened to the black race… the KKK should all rot in HELL… I hate what Hitler did to the Jews. Omg… why can’t we all just get along. Why are people attacking all americans over what some people did to this elephant. I didn’t kill her. I didn’t hang no black men even tho they killed off plenty of the indian race my ancestors died horribly and still treated like we are animals. Look at the statistics… most blacks killed are killed by their own race. I hate what everyone is doing and saying against each other. God gave us the same color blood… why can’t we just get along . I hate what happened to that elephant. I have four pets I love dearly. It’s horrible what happened to Mary . It’s a true shame the guy made a terrible mistake by poking Mary he truly was warned. Mary reacted by protecting herself. I cry thinking how she died a painful long death, shame on her owners… they knew how horrible this was going to be. I can’t believe this happened in 1916 and we have p e pile going off on us Americans for what happened before I was born. Wow wow wow. This is so amazing. Get a life peeps. I forgave what people did to my ancestors. I have black best friends I love with all my heart. I have worked wit Iraqis…Mexicans…Blacks…Germans…Chinese… I never in my life seen harder workers than the ones I worked with. We h a ‘ve bad in each race. Not all of us are bad. We have the same color blood people. We work to take care of family and help those who need help. I love people no matter their race. Let’s be what Jesus wanted us t o be. He died for us . God lost his son so we could keep living. Stop this dawn hate.


Anyone from Irwin that watched this horrific retire of an innocent beautiful animal I hope you all burn in hell assholes


Anyone from Irwin that watched this horrific retire of an innocent beautiful animal I hope you all burn in hell assholes. Must be inbreds! Karma that’s all I can say! Poor Mary – humans are idiots!


Hope reply wolf suffered! White trash alcoholic trash

Research and Common Sense:

It’s not true that Mary killed the trainer by accident as many of you in the comments have claimed. Elephants are very smart and in some ways perform better mentally than humans, such as memory. This was a deliberate murder and the sentence was fair…

But since she survived the first hanging attempt, for the sake of fairness they should not have tried again.

Un elefante sul patibolo - Bizzarro Bazar:

[…] la morte, Mary venne lasciata a penzolare per mezz’ora. Il suo enorme corpo fu poi seppellito in una grande tomba scavata poco più avanti lungo i […]

The Sad Story Of Murderous Mary, A Circus Elephant Hanged By A Tennessee Town - Self Scroll is your home for inspiring images and the people who snapped them. Explore Happiness:)):

[…] employees trained Eldridge to handle his herd with the “gentle care” that Sparks insisted of his handlers. Eldridge would lose sight of this philosophy at the first elephant indiscretion, which resulted in […]


Accorind the ‘Eleaid’, it is possible for Asian females to have short tusks, called tushes. See here:

Adam Sanders:

I can,t believe how stupid some of these comments are lol don,t you realize anyone
who saw this happen even at 1 year old would now be 101 years old hahah As for Erwin Tn. people almost every one are loving God fearing people. Try to remember back in 1916 justice was swift Even for an Eliphant that killed. I love Elephants I wish this had never happend, Erwin is very sorry this is in their history, But Before you throw Stones Visit this sweet little town of about 6,000 people and Attend the Church of your choice – there are a lot in Erwin. RIP MARY


What is so disgusting is that they want to hide this from the world and forget about the poor elephant, I hope this picture is a constant reminder of their past and I hope the never live it down


I didn’t remember this story until my granddaughter played a part in a school play about it. The story is very disconcerting (as was the play), but the fact is that animals that kill humans are required to be destroyed in almost all locales.

Some say that the animals never do anything like this, which is obviously wrong. Animals do not have much for brains, but their instincts are well developed. It seems that Mary’s indiscretion was due to the fact that she felt severe pain as a result of the unusual (to her) treatment by her trainer. The punishment for the perpetrator of the severe pain was a reaction engrained in elephants for millennia – however, human trainers had taught her how to deal with it – except this time she didn’t. This is a fact that comes back to haunt owners of wild animals. Their beloved animal would never hurt them – until it does.

The responsibility for this is upon the owner. The people of the towns were well within their rights to insist that the animal be destroyed. The chants as depicted are much like the denunciations of ‘those people’ for hurting poor Mary. I do not believe that they were pure by any means – just failed humans like you are, but they do not deserve to have their posterity treated with the kind of contempt and disdain as described here.

That said, the decision to execute her in the manner described was, in twenty-twenty hindsight, very flawed. The reasoning behind it unclear, but whatever the case, it did not turn out so well. Even then it was not nearly as bad as insinuated. Of course, things do go wrong when they are not thoroughly planned and thought out for every possible happenstance. Do you fault them for the chain breaking – it had no doubt held many more tons than Mary was supposed to weigh before that. Do you blame the people who neglected to loosen Mary’s restraints – you could not have gotten me to go near her. Someone forgot to tell the crane operator. So obviously the whole thing was a fiasco at the expense of the elephant. Who is at fault for that – why all of you people who lived afterward of course. that is no more ridiculous than your crazy tirades against the people of the town, etc.

This is a lesson of history – it is not a story that demands torment for those involved or for those who lived in the town at the time or since, nor for anyone else. It is a sad story of circumstances gone wrong. Something to learn from. A reason to not attempt to enslave or even keep a wild animal unless you are willing to accept that it might turn on you (like the lady with the chimp).

Besides that it sounds like many of the residents of Erwin were against the hanging – they certainly didn’t have a vote in it. Those of you who are so angry at the residents have a streak of pure meanness in you or you would realize that these folks were not even born at the time. As for many other items of historic interest, they serve as reminders of things that have happened, good or bad. To blame someone or group for these happenings is totally childish – and not a product of contemplative thought.

And about the tusk story – if the picture is reasonably accurate, Mary did not have even tushes because even they are large enough that on an elephant her age they would have been visible in the picture.

And about the Bible verses that were so glibly offered, they are totally without context to this story – sorry.

About animals who do things to their kind – I have seen sows kill their piglets just after they were born. I have seen cows kick their calf half way across the barn, I have seen cats that got up after giving birth and never go back to their babies. I have seen a dog lead her young pups into the field in a clear attempt to lose them. I have seen a horse seemingly go mad and rare up against its owner. I have seen pigs kill and eat a weaker pig in a feed lot. I have seen a bunch of pigs attack chickens catch and kill them.

I have watched countless documentaries showing animals doing very cruel things to others of their own group – for example, a wolf correcting a pup in its charge, a wolf killing another for an indiscretion. The list goes on and on. The fact is that you animal lovers do not know the depravity of animals, but we shouldn’t expect anything else from them and should not be surprised when they act like animals – they ARE animals. When they show what we consider is friendliness or affection towards us, we love them – are they really capable of loving us in return or is that our wishful thinking? I think that you know the answer but will never admit it.


Not mentioned is the fact that a vet examined Mary after her death and realized she had an abscessed tooth right in the area she was prodded.


To BaghdadRunner:
No,human lives doesn’t stand above animals. By the way, we are anumals, too.


To Someone:
This was a mistreated elephant (all circus elephants are broken) and Elridge, by the way, had only himself to blame for hitting the elephant. In any other case, she would be innocent. And she certainly didn’t deserve to hang!


To BagdhadRunner: No human stands above an animal. And we are animals, too, by the way.

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