Posts Tagged ‘Jumbo the elephant New York City’

The elephants that tested the Brooklyn Bridge

December 22, 2011

When the Brooklyn Bridge—under construction for 13 years—was gearing up for opening day in May 1883, 19th century New York’s biggest showman made a proposal.

To test out the bridge, P.T. Barnum offered, he’d walk his troupe of elephants across it.

Authorities turned him down. But a year later, on May 17, 1884, his elephant march (plus other creatures) happened, as this 2004 New Yorker cover cleverly illustrates.

It was a demonstration to the public that the bridge was safe and a brilliant promotional stunt for Barnum’s Museum and touring show.

“To people who looked up from the river at the big arch of electric lights it seemed as if Noah’s Ark were emptying itself over on Long Island,” wrote The New York Times.

“At 9:30 o’clock 21 elephants, 7 camels, and 10 dromedaries issued from the ferry at the foot of Courtlandt-Street. . . . The other elephants shuffled along, raising their trunks and snorting as every train went by. Old Jumbo brought up the rear.”

Jumbo was Barnum’s prized giant African elephant, shown in this sketch arriving by crate to the city. He was already a celebrity in London when Barnum purchased him.