This just appeared today in Marilyn Vos Savant's column in Parade magazine today. Anyone know for sure if Marilyn is correct?
quote:Did Thomas Edison really electrocute an elephant to demonstrate the power ot electricity?
—Julian Hammer, Carteret, N.J.
After reading your letter, I was amazed to learn that this is true--almost. At Coney Island in 1903, an elephant named Topsy was scheduled to die because she had killed three men during the time she had been employed helping to build Luna Park, where she was later on display roaming freely. The last man killed was a drunken spectator who is believed to have fed her a lit cigarette. Park officials attempted to poison her with cyanide carrots but failed; banging was considered before the ASPCA mercifully intervened.
Enter Thomas Edison, who had been vying for business with George Westinghouse. Edison maintained that his direct current (DC) was safer than his competition's alternating current (AC), and he had been routinely electrocuting dogs and cats with AC in public in order to convince people. So Edison took advantage of this dubious public-relations opportunity and killed Topsy with alternating current while capturing the event on film, which he later replayed for audiences everywhere. So Edison wasn't just demonstrating the power of electricity; he was showing the danger of it.
I can find nothing that refutes the story. I can only find sites that reinforce it. And, I just found a site with purported film of the elephant being "fried." I will post it with the caveat that it isn't gruesome, but, if you don't want to see an elephant fall over with smoke coming out of its feet, just don't click on the link. http://www.theelectricchair.com/elephant.htm
From what I have heard this legend is true. The story I heard had the part about the cigarette, but als adds a bit more to the story, this is how I heard it. When Thomas Edison was devising a way to execute a man in an unpainful way he thought that electicity would work. So he came up with the idea of the electic chair but needed to test it, so he paid local children to catch stray animals and give them to him so that he could see how much electricity it would take to kill the animals (usually cats and dogs). After a while stray animal supplies ran out so the money hungry children would kidnap peoples' pets. Edison, knowng that it would take a larger amount of electricity to kill a man, needed a bigger test subject. It was about this time that an elephant killed a man who had been feeding it hay. It was later found out that this man was cruel to the elephant and had fed it a cigarette with it's hay, causing the poor animal to go crazy and trample the man. Despite this the elephant was given to Edison to be electricuted. It took 20 minutes to kill the poor animal and the entire thing was filmed on a silent movie camera. The film still exists today.
I do believe this story to be fact, I remember seing a picture or "still" from the film.
The Marilyn is Wrong! site is devoted to debunking her asserttions, but doesn't seem ot have been updated lately.
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The Red and the Green Stamps
quote:Originally posted by sam: And, I just found a site with purported film of the elephant being "fried." I will post it with the caveat that it isn't gruesome, but, if you don't want to see an elephant fall over with smoke coming out of its feet
I believe I saw this bit of footage while watching "Closure", a collection of Nine Inch Nails videos. The put it as a filler in between two videos. Not to say if it is true or not, just that I have seen something like this.
I saw the footage on a PBS documentary about, of all things, Coney Island. I don't remember Edison being mentioned, but everything else about Marilyn's story is the same as it was stated on the documentary. Unless the documentary film maker and Marilyn were fooled by the same spurious source, this suggests to me that the story is real.
The footage looks genuinely old. I suppose that modern film technology could create a fake "old" film, but they would have to fake its provenance as well. I don't think that it could be a 1903-vintage fake, because it does not look at all like "rubber dinosaur" work -- and 1903 is probably too early even for that technique.
Steve "why do you want to borrow my elephant??" in F