What happened when Topsy the Elephant met Thomas the Edison...




On 4 January 1903, Western death culture reached new depths of depravity when it executed an Asian elephant that had killed its keeper after the keeper had fed it, for his idle amusement, a lighted cigarette.

The magnificent and unfortunate animal, that its human slave owners named Topsy, had already rid herself of two of her tormentors of the Forepaugh Circus, in retaliation at being forced to perform humiliating and degrading tricks for the diversion of a decadent public. Her punishment was to be committed to the penal institution known as Lunar Park on Coney Island. 



It was here, at Lunar Park, that Topsy dispatched her third victim, her human jailer that had given her a lighted cigarette to smoke, grabbing him in her trunk and hurling him to the ground, proof that the man, though an imbecile, was still good enough to have his brains dashed out.

Topsy was condemned to death as a common criminal, and Thomas Edison, the celebrated inventor, volunteered to deliver the coup de grâce by grilling her with 6,600 volts of electricity



Edison already had an impressive track record in toasting live animals with his invention. Cats and dogs had been dispatched. And on 6 August 1890, his first human victim, William Kemmler, was fed 1,000 volts, then 2,000 volts, before being declared dead. 

It was an attempt by Edison to prove the superiority of his system over that of his rival, Westinghouse. Alas, poor Thomas, it didn't work, as the Westinghouse current proved the more commercial.




An estimated audience of 1,500 ghoulish voyeurs gathered to watch the public execution of Topsy. A cord linked to the park's power supply was put around her neck. The executioner pulled the lever and Topsy toppled to the ground. After several seconds she expired and the crowd went away satisfied.

Edison had the event filmed and released the film later that year under the title Electrocuting an Elephant. It played to cinemas throughout the United States.

But 'the whirligig of time brings in his revenges' [Feste the Clown in Twelfth Night], and revenge for Topsy came in 1944, when Lunar Park was swept away by fire.

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