Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Barney the Elephant & a Gallon of Whiskey

Barney was here (JWB Photo)
Okay, here’s one that my unbelievably cute granddaughters, Maddie and Faye, would love.

It happened on this date, December 18, all the way back in 1900. 

I’m not making any of it up. 

Someone thought it would be a fine idea to hold a circus on the fourth floor of the Chicago Athletic club’s headquarters on Michigan Avenue.  In order to have a first-rate circus, one needs circus sorts of things.  Some circus things you can live without.  Chimps on horseback, for example . . . never a big favorite of mine.  Dogs in tutus . . . also not high on my things-to-see-at-the-circus list.

But one circus thing you can’t do without?  An elephant. 

So back in 1900 in order to have for the Chicago Athletic Club to have its circus an elephant in the charge of keeper C. McCurren was walked down Michigan Avenue from Lincoln Park, where the circus to which it was attached was spending the winter.  When the entourage reached the Chicago Athletic Club it found that “. . . a large number of the club members, who doubted the beast’s disposition to climb to its station on the fourth floor” had assembled. [Chicago Tribune.  December 19, 1900]

The question might be asked, “Why the stairs and not the elevator?”

The answer is a simple one.  Back in those days elevators weren’t made for 2,500 pound elephants.  So Barney faced a four-flight hike up the Athletic Club’s formal staircase.

Preparations had been made.  Barney had been “prepared for the ordeal by a gallon of whiskey and an equal amount of molasses.”  The whiskey I get.  The molasses . . . maybe someone out there has the answer to that one.

The Tribune’s coverage continued.

The front doors were opened and the elephant moved through as if it were in the habit of entering great clubhouses.  The beast, which is only 8 years of age, evidently was apprehensive of the sharp hook carried by Tom Powers, the keeper, who led it.  While a dozen employees about the club placed two-inch boards over each step Barney stood at the bottom lazily swinging its trunk.

Once the stairs were in readiness Powers gave the iron hook a tug and the elephant began the ascent of the first flight of stairs.  Three steps at a time were taken.  The boards moved on the stairs, but did not slip, and the elephant soon was waiting the shifting of the boards to the second flight.  As it stood in the center of the main reception-room of the clubhouse the great beast looked strangely out of place, but not so much so as when waiting for another transfer of the boards it half filled the woman’s reception-room on the third floor.

From the women’s reception-room it was a cakewalk up the last flight of stairs to the club’s gymnasium, where Barney was “chained to a heavy post until after the circus.”

For me the most amazing part of the whole adventure was this:  fortified by a gallon of whiskey, which probably was not single malt and which probably had been aged for significantly less than 14 years, good old Barney took those stairs, three at a time.

1 comment:

Roy said...

OK - Now that we know how they got Barnney up the stairs -
How did they get him down???