Brooklyn journalist uncovers story of Topsy the elephant
Brooklyn-based journalist Michael Daly has recently published “Topsy: The Startling Story of the Crooked-Tailed Elephant, P. T. Barnum, and the American Wizard, Thomas Edison” (Atlantic Monthly Press), in which he uncovers the truth surrounding the story of Topsy, a baby elephant who was smuggled into the U.S. and fraudulently named the first American-born elephant.
Topsy was snatched from her home in the wild in 1877. Circus magnate Adam Forepaugh covertly transported her into the U.S., but his rival, P.T. Barnum, publicly accused Forepaugh of perpetrating a fraud. The elephant was ultimately electrocuted on Coney Island in 1903, and the urban myth about her fate has endured to haunt elephant-lovers.
In “Topsy,” Daly thoroughly investigates this story, illustrating in detail the great circus men who played a role in determining the elephant’s destiny. He unpacks the myth of Topsy’s birth, which was part of the War of the Elephants, during which Forepaugh and Barnum battled over whose elephants were superior. Daly brings to light the bizarre and intense competition, reveals the extent to which the circus was sensationalized during its heyday, and even explores the personalities of the elephants themselves.
Daly expertly leads his readers through this peculiar series of events, as well as the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo – where McKinley was assassinated — and the development of Coney Island.