The popularity of the movie "Water for Elephants" provides an excuse for this parade of powerful pachyderm facts:
1. African and Asian elephants are different species. The African savanna elephant is taller and heavier, has bigger ears and a concave back. The Asian's trunk ends with just one lip, versus two on African elephants. The Asian has one fewer pair of ribs but more toenails. And Asian elephants are hairier, which makes sense, as they are more closely related to the extinct woolly mammoth than to their contemporaries in Africa.
2. Duchess, Lincoln Park Zoo's first elephant, once escaped. In October 1892, she ran through a pond before leaving the zoo grounds at about Clark and what is now Dickens (see the map for her approximate route). During her rampage she demolished a brewery door and wreaked havoc inside a bar. A horse also died in the fray. Chased by zoo keepers, residents and police, Duchess fled down Cleveland Avenue, "plunging through the board sidewalks at every step," the Tribune reported. Zookeepers finally slowed her down by getting ropes around her legs and tying her to trees.
3. A rare intersection of elephants and opera is Giuseppe Verdi's "Aida," which has often been staged with pachyderms. Before soprano Maria Callas lost weight, a critic quipped that "it was difficult to discern Callas' ankles from those of the elephant in the scene." Another mammoth insult was delivered by composer Gioachino Rossini to hefty contralto Marietta Alboni. He called her "the elephant that swallowed a nightingale."
4. While the word jumbo possibly didn't originate with the massive African elephant in the Barnum and Bailey Circus, he certainly popularized it. Jumbo was billed as the largest elephant in the world and was a huge draw in the U.S. He was killed in 1885 by a train in St. Thomas, Ontario. (Railway City Brewing Co. there makes a beer called Dead Elephant Ale.) Jumbo's stuffed body, which toured with the circus for four more years, was given to Tufts University, and became the school's mascot. .
5. For both Asian and African elephants, pregnancy lasts about 22 months. Because of gestation and lactation time, a female elephant may have only six offspring her entire life.
6. Sexually mature male elephants go through periodic states known as musth, in which they produce high levels of testosterone, are dangerously aggressive and secrete a foul-smelling liquid from a gland behind their eyes.
7. One of the most bizarre incidents in U.S. history — and a horrific example of animal cruelty — occurred in Erwin, Tenn., in 1916. A trainer with a traveling circus was killed by a five-ton elephant named Mary, and circus officials feared that surrounding towns would ban their show. So they took Mary to a rail yard and hanged her by the neck from a crane in front of 2,500 spectators, many of them children. The first attempt failed when the elephant's weight snapped a chain, causing her to fall and break her hip. A second try with a heavier chain succeeded. She was buried in a grave dug with a steam shovel.
8. Lincoln Park Zoo acquired Judy from Brookfield Zoo in 1943. But the 35-year-old elephant refused to ride in a flatbed truck, so she walked the 18 miles to her new home. Escorted by zoo staff and motorcycle cops, Judy set off at 7 p.m. and traversed the western suburbs and the West Side, resting for two hours in Garfield Park before reaching Lincoln Park at 2:15 a.m.
9. Walt Disney bought the rights to "Dumbo, the Flying Elephant" for $1,000 from Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl, a husband-and-wife team. Their original was published as a rare roll-a-book, a picture book on a scroll. The movie was released in 1941.
10. Ald. "Bathhouse John" Coughlin, one of Chicago's most corrupt and colorful politicians, bought a Lincoln Park Zoo elephant named Princess Alice for a reported $3,000 around 1905 and sent the elephant to his private zoo near Colorado Springs, Colo. The Chicago zoo was willing to give up the animal because its trunk was damaged when it got stuck in a door jamb.
Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor for the Tribune; Stephan Benzkofer is the Tribune's weekend editor.
Sources: "Elephants," by Joyce Poole; "Asian Elephant," by Matt Turner; "Our Movie Houses," by Norman O. Keim, David Marc; "Walt's People," by Didier Ghez; "Maria Callas: An Intimate Biography," by Anne Edwards; "Strong on Music: Reverberations, 1850-1856," by Vera Brodsky Lawrence; "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Elephants," by S.K. Eltringham and Jeheskel Shoshani; "The Moral Lives of Animals," by Dale Peterson; "Critical Regionalism," by Douglas Reichert Powell; "Lords of the Levee," by Lloyd Wendt and Herman Kogan; "The Ark in the Park," by Mark Rosenthal, Carol Tauber and Edward Uhlir; "Elephants: A Cultural and Natural History," by Karl Groning and Martin Saller; "In the Beat of a Heart," by John Whitfield; Tufts University; Chicago Tribune archives; blueridgecountry.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun