Friday, July 4, 2008

When Elephants Came to North America

This account is a sordid one that involves good church people, lively entertainment and mass crowd appeal mixed with money making entrepreneurial types – later called ring masters. It also has the origins of the phrase, “Jumbo Size” – mixed in with Saint Thomas, Ontario – for that maybe where Jumbo Size had its first usage.

So when did the Elephant first come to North America?

In 1796 Captain Jacob Crowninshield arrived in New York with a 2 year old elephant he had purchased in India. The entire venture cost him $450…and in 1796 that would be a lot of money.

But being an original entrepreneur, Captain Jacob charged people to see the creature. At the first showing another man by the name of Owen bought it for $10,000. The two year old elephant became a fixture on American soil. And the first Used Car Salesman, actually Used Elephant Salesman, was born. From a $450 investment to a $10,000 return would kind of predict a possible new business for these early people of America… wouldn’t you think? Your right!

You see in 1796 the largest animal that one might find any where was likely a horse or cow in most civilized areas. There was deer and possibly moose in some parts and if you really went to wild areas the huge grizzly bear with its smaller black bear neighbor would raise some excitement too.

People paid good money to see these large beasts that were only read about in best sellers like the Bible at that the time… and other world tour books of the time. People first paid 50 Cents to see the Elephant. Which means that likely the really rich people were the only guests to the large enclosures made for the beast.

As the entrepreneur moved the Elephant from place to place the price dropped to 25 cents.

Now consider that the average salary of the day was very low… 50 cents and even 25 cents was extremely high entrance fee. (the average of a Congressman in the USA was $1500 making his daily salary about $5. The ordinary person was no where near the Congressman’s salary.)

It seemed that good church people didn’t appreciate a good show – especially on Sunday. The place was in Maine. “Old Bet” was the second elephant that came to the USA and while they were walking her down the street early in the morning, before daylight so that local people could not get a free look at her, staunch supporters from the ‘Blue Laws’ group – shot and killed her. The ‘Blue Laws’ people were church goers that believed that it was evil to have entertainment of any kind on Sunday. The date was July 28, 1816. Imagine the church service that morning…a large, dead elephant lying in the street, everyone now gawking for FREE, and the church was likely empty! Tragic – but funny at the same time. Is there a lesson here or what?

My, how we have changed in society and in our churches… It seems that one of the best ways to get people to church is by great and new entertainment. And some churches have done that – even with an elephant (see link below).

On the side… unless your church has a mega band and a super worship leader – you are dead as a congregation. People want to watch more than participate. But worship is about participation where man comes to give to God his voice, his mind, his whole being. Isn’t it?

It was announced this week that another church in Peterborough is closing.

In the 1800s and into the 1900s – the ring master was paid more than the minister. Today that may be different. But both are entertainers. Without that ability to do the entertainer part – neither will get the audience. As a pastor I had thought of a different garb that would catch the attention of the folk… some people felt I did that any way. Memories…

There is something sad about our history. I don’t want the days of ‘Blue Laws’ and killers of elephants… but it would be nice to see a day of rest/worship take a larger part of our lives than it does providing a refocus of what we do and be.

This reflection today comes after a couple weeks away from “the show” that has been apart of my life for 39 years – the Pastor that must perform.

Maybe that was why the “Blue Law People” killed the elephant in 1816… it was a greater show than the local Pastor had in the church?

My, oh my, did I need an adjustment.

Oh Oh…Oh
In my opening statement to this Blog I talked about “Jumbo Sized” and Saint Thomas, Ontario.

Quoting from “The History Buff”…
In 1882, P.T. Barnum offered the London Zoo $10,000 to buy their elephant named Jumbo. The elephant was the largest in the world and measured 10 feet 10 inches tall, weighed 8 tons, and had a trunk 27 and a half inches in circumference.

Jumbo was first shown at Barnums' Hippodrome that same year. The animal traveled in an especially designed palace car. Millions of people paid to see Jumbo. On September 15, 1885, while on a layover in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada, Jumbo was standing on the train track when a train rushed upon him. Jumbo was caught between the line of circus cars and the oncoming train and killed. His hide was preserved and later given to Tufts College, while the skeleton was given to the Museum of Natural History.

Jumbo was loved by so many people that, after his death, people automatically began referring to anything larger than normal as being "jumbo-sized." To this day, over a hundred years later, the term has stayed a part of the English language.
~ end quote ~

Now if… on some Sunday… you find me in a movie theatre… sipping a Jumbo Sized pop… and eating a Jumbo Sized bag of popcorn… it will make more sense… specially when it is a minister doing this. But then he is now retired and one of “Order of the Pew”.

Confession time…
About one year ago… during the summer time… we had no church on a Sunday evening… my grandkids begged me to got to an exciting movie with them… so I did. We walked into the very entertaining entrance to the line up to buy our tickets. ( a few years ago I wouldn’t be caught dead here as a minister…)

My grandkids were bouncing around as this was to be a VERY EXCITING SHOW!

I looked over at the next line… and there was one of my fellow ministers, same denomination, different city, waiting to buy his tickets also. We laughed heartily and then looked around for more of us. His comment was… “Nuts… I drove up to Peterborough so no one from my church would see me on a Sunday… going into a theatre! Now I see you!” My comment was, “I won’t tell anyone that it was you!”

~ Murray Lincoln ~

History Buff – Elephants
Old ‘Bet’ Dies in Alfred, Maine
The Elephant came to the Church of the Glades
Peta and the Church of the Glades
The Elephant and the Church by the Glades

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