The story of Mary the elephant is perhaps the most coherent example of circus animal abuse at the start of the 20th century. After killing her trainer and earning herself the nickname "Murderous Mary", she was lynched at the behest of those who witnessed the tragic incident.
Mary was a 5-ton Asian elephant, part of the Sparks circus troupe. Walter Eldridge was hired to become her trainer in September of 1916, whom they called "Red" because of the strange color of his hair.
Red Eldridge did not have any actual experience in training elephants, he was limited to directing the enormous animal with a so-called elephant goad, a type of bullhook used for handling.
Eldridge would parade Mary out in the circus arena and stand on her back, quickly become a star attraction. All until one fatal day, when the show ended with his death.
There are many rumors surrounding the death of Red Eldridge but the most popular goes that Eldridge prodded the elephant behind the ear in the middle of a show after she stopped to eat a watermelon rind.
The animal fell into a rage, began to stampede, threw Eldridge from her back with her trunk and stepped on his head, smashing it. The entire incident played out in front of the circus crowd.
When Mary settled down, the crowd began to chant, "Kill the elephant! "
Charlie Sparks, the circus owner, had no choice but to appease the onlookers and ordered to have Mary hung publicly.
On September 13, 1916, Mary was transported by train to Unicoi County, Tennessee, where 2500 spectators stood waiting. She was led to the town square with 4 other elephants, to keep her tranquil.
A chain was wrapped around Mary's neck and she was lifted with a crane. But no one could have foreseen the horror that would follow.
Witnesses could hear the sounds of elephant bones breaking as she was lifted to a height of 6.5 ft (2 m) above the ground, when the chain snapped, the elephant fell and broke her ribs.
The crane made a 2nd attempt at lifting the animal as it writhed in agonizing pain. Onlookers met Mary's cries with applause and cheers of joy. 30 minutes later, an eyewitness veterinarian confirmed the elephant to be officially dead.