22 Mar: The Elephant That Inspired ‘Dumbo’

Jumbo, one of the largest elephants ever seen, departed London Zoo for Barnum & Bailey’s Circus in New York on March 9th, 1882. Nationally beloved as the ‘pet’ to Queen Victoria’s children, for 16 years he’d given thousands of rides around Regent’s Park, but was sold off for $10,000 once he started exhibiting trauma – and getting erections.

P.T. Barnum then embarked upon a promotional blitz, leveraging the controversy caused by his latest acquisition, and selling Jumbo’s image to numerous commercial partners. But tragedy struck in 1885 when Jumbo was involved in a railway accident in Canada. 

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly explain how Jumbo became an alcoholic; indulge in the music hall singalong, ‘Why Part with Jumbo, Pet of the Zoo?’; and consider how Barnum’s marketing genius continued to exploit Jumbo’s legacy, despite him being responsible for the negligence that led to his untimely death… 

Further Reading:

• ‘Tragic true story of Jumbo, the real life alcoholic circus elephant that inspired Disney’s Dumbo’  (Mail Online, 2019): https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6864855/Tragic-true-story-Jumbo-real-life-alcoholic-circus-elephant-inspired-Disneys-Dumbo.html

• ‘My Poor Old Jumbo, Your Alice Weeps for You’ (The New York Times, 1886): https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/28/insider/1886-my-poor-old-jumbo-your-alice-weeps-for-you.html?searchResultPosition=6

• ‘P.T. Barnum and Jumbo: The Elephant Story’ (Barnum Museum, 2022):