Retro Baltimore: How Baltimore's zoo got its first elephant

Meet the jungle editor, a Sun reporter who helped bring an elephant named Mary Ann to Baltimore in 1923.

The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore is celebrating its 140th anniversary with a "Zoobilee" event this Friday. To get ready, we dug through our archives to bring you a story of perhaps the most famous animal ever to grace Druid Hill Park.

“[T]here will never be another Mary Ann,” Raymond S. Tompkins wrote in The Baltimore Sun in 1942.

One of the city's most beloved inhabitants had just died. Twenty years earlier, her arrival had inspired local children and even tilted the mayor’s race.

Mary Ann was, Tompkins wrote, “one of the most, if not the most, remarkable elephant on the North American continent in her day.”

And Tompkins would know. He was the jungle editor. And he was the reason Mary Ann came to Baltimore in the first place.  

It all started one evening around 1921, when a group of children made their way to the offices of The Baltimore Sun. They demanded change. The zoo in Druid Hill Park, they said, needed more animals.

The city editor put Tompkins, then a young reporter who'd covered Maryland soliders overseas in World War I, on the case. He had a new title: jungle editor. He began writing regular columns, like a Pied Piper of Baltimore, directing his children readers – who he called “the Jungle Circle” – to donate a penny a week to procure animals for the zoo. 

Somewhere along the line, Tompkins and The Sun helped convince United Railways to bring an elephant named Mary Ann all the way from Calcutta (now Kolkata), India, to Baltimore.

There was just one problem: As the jungle editor informed his young readers, the park’s board, headed by J. Cookman Boyd, opposed the idea of an elephant at Druid Hill Park, deeming it too dangerous. But the board was no match for Tompkins.

While Mary Ann waited at Bay Shore Park and later Gwynn Oak Park, Tompkins sought stories from children about homeless elephants. He published telegrams from other zoos attesting to the peaceful nature of pachyderms. At one point, he arranged for a herd of visiting elephants to parade down the street. The story reached peak absurdity in 1923 when Howard W. Jackson, then running for mayor, made bringing Mary Ann to the zoo his first campaign goal – and then won the race. 

Mary Ann did eventually get a permanent home in Druid Hill Park. By that time, though, Tompkins was living in Berlin as a foreign correspondent for The Sun, and he reprised his jungle editor persona once more from Germany. 

Nearly 20 years later, he returned to The Sun to write Mary Ann's obituary.

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
75°