Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Topsy the Elephant........ She was electrocuted for her rampage. She was not electrocuted by Thomas Edison
One of the most dreadful moments in Coney Islands and Luna Parks history was the execution of Topsy the Elephant
This is a frame from the footage of film made by the Edison Company of her death
Thomas Edison The Wizard of Menlo Park...
If one goes through the internet and reads stories about Topsy the Elephant you get so many conflicting stories. You get the sense that Topsy was bad elephant and she was murdered by bad old Thomas Edison.
Now I am not going to go into the whole history here, but will touch on a few topics.
Topsy the elephant (1875-1903) was with Coney Island for a long time...She was getting older and was not the star she had once been and she was used for more labor activities than show business. There were many other animals in Luna Park.
Some drunk people tossed a lit cigarette into her mouth and burned her and she went on a rampage and it led to injuries and deaths. It was decided to kill the elephant.
What people forget in this day and age is that Luna Park was a destination in 1900. There was nothing like it in the world.
They always had publicity stunts to get attractions.
Many of us have heard of "Little Egypt" the dancing girl. She was at Coney Island. She was not at the "World's Fair of 1893"....Although it is mentioned so often as though it is fact.
In Luna Park there was "Dreamland" which was lit with thousands of light bulbs and had wonders from around the world and many places that seemed to be beyond the land of our dreams...hence the name.
There was a song that came out in the early 1900's called...."Meet me tonight in Dreamland" It was all about the park not a dream state.
As you can see it was a place to go, and always there were great spectacles happening.
When Topsy went on her rampage it was decided to destroy the animal. It was suggested that a public hanging take place, but the thought of a public electrical execution seems to have a lot more interest.
...The electric chair had been well publicized for a few years since its use was started in prisons. Yes I will say that Edison had a hand in the development of the electric chair. One of the big moments of the day was McKinley's assassin was electrocuted....There is a film of the event that was a recreation...so please don't think that is the real thing. That film was seen in many theaters and it arroused much morbid interest.
Everyone associated Edison with electricity..so I guess everyone just thought that he did it to Topsy
The press was notified...It was a massive public spectacle..just like everything that happened there. An electrical company was hired to wire the poor animal so she could be killed with AC current.
It was done and it was great success for the owners and it was even filmed as it was a great public spectacle.
The film crew was from the Edison Studios. They filmed all kinds of events and great moments at Luna Park and Coney Island. It was just another event.
Somehow as the years have gone by, it has become stated that Thomas Edison went over to Coney Island and killed Topsy for them...This is an out and out lie!
Yes Thomas Edison hated AC electrical power distribution...and yes Edison was indirectly testing execution methods...But that had been back in the 1880's and early 1890's......Thomas Edison was out of the electrical industry by 1894. By the late 1890's he had nothing to do at all with the industry..He even sold off all of his stock in the electrical industry. The battles between Westinghouse, Tesla and Edison were now long over.
By 1903 Edison had been out of the electrical industry for nearly 10 years! He was not at all interested in getting involved in any venture dealing with electrical power or execution. He had been publicly embarrassed by it in the 1890's.
I was shocked to find that a monument to Topsy was being built in Coney Island and it was mentioned that she had been executed by THOMAS EDISON!!!!
I did an interview for Public Radio through a student at Columbia University in 2002, who was doing a show on this subject and he said it is widely know that Edison did it. I told him that there was no truth to it at all. I know this spoils the story...I know everyone thinks Edison did it...well I am here to set the record straight. He did not.
Look at the internet and you will see all kind of things about this, some are reasonable, some are really scary. The research done by some people (if done at all)is mind numbing.
I will end this with what I saw on a website about this execution...
It stated Edison wanted to prove Westinghouse wrong so he wanted to show the world how dangerous AC transmission was and he killed Topsy the elephant. This web site also goes on to talk about Edison's device to record the voices of the dead too!
In response yes, Edison wanted to prove Westinghouse wrong 10 years earlier..in the early 1890's..not 1903...And Edison did not make a machine to record the voices of the dead...It was a joke on his part. He did not believe in an afterlife...why would he care to record it??????
History really gets messed up with time....I am very sorry what happened to Topsy the elephant. But urban myths are just that usually....myths