Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History

Sauer, Anne

Branco, Jessica

Bennett, John

Crowley, Zachary


Jumbo, 1882-1885


Jumbo was a male African elephant owned by P.T. Barnum, Tufts trustee and benefactor, and is mascot of Tufts University. Jumbo was the largest elephant known at the time, standing approximately twelve feet tall at the shoulder and weighing more than six tons. Though Jumbo never visited the campus during his lifetime, Barnum donated Jumbo's stuffed hide to the college.

Jumbo was still a baby when captured by a party of traders in Abyssinia in 1861.He was sold to a wild animal collector, Johann Schmidt, who, in turn, sold the elephant to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Jumbo remained in Paris for three years with another elephant, Alice. In 1865, Matthew Scott, who was to serve as Jumbo's keeper for the rest of the elephant's life, came to see the two young elephants, who were ill. Scott believed that they could be cured, and arranged to acquire them for the London Zoological Gardens in exchange for a rhinoceros. Under Scott's care they were returned to health and Jumbo especially became a favorite of visitors to the London Zoo.

Barnum purchased Jumbo in 1882 for $10,000 from the Royal Zoological Society in London. After a great protest in England, including from Queen Victoria, he brought Jumbo to America. Barnum took Jumbo on tour with his circus for the next several years. Jumbo traveled on a specially constructed rail car that was large enough to hold him.

In 1885, Jumbo was killed by a train in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada. The accident took place when Jumbo and Tom Thumb, a dwarf elephant, were being led across the train yard by their keeper when a train came down a little-used track and struck Jumbo. According to legend, spread by Barnum, Jumbo pushed Tom Thumb out of the path of the oncoming train, saving his life, and reached out his trunk to his keeper, Matthew Scott, before dying. An eyewitness report by Edgar H. Flach, who claimed to have seen the entire event, reported rather that Jumbo fled the train when his keeper realized the danger and directed him to run. In his fear, Jumbo missed the opening in the fence that would have enabled him to leave the track and was unable to escape the oncoming train. While Jumbo's heroism in saving Tom Thumb does not appear to be true, Flack confirms that Jumbo did clasp his trainer in his trunk before dying.

Barnum had Jumbo's skeleton and hide saved and mounted separately. The hide was stuffed by Carl Ackeley and William Critchley. Stuffed Jumbo continued to tour with the circus until 1889, when he was given to Tufts to be displayed in the Barnum Museum of Natural History. Barnum hoped that the stuffed elephant would provide publicity useful to the college. Jumbo's bones were mounted and given to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where they were on display for many years.

Jumbo became the college mascot in 1889, when he was given to Tufts. In addition to giving his name to Tufts' athletic teams, Jumbo was believed to give good luck. Before big exams or games, students would tug on his tail or put pennies in his trunk to ensure a good outcome. All of the tail-tugging took its toll, however, and his tail was replaced in 1952, when stuffed Jumbo underwent repairs. The original tail that was removed was packed up with other historical materials in the Library, and is held in the University Archives.

Jumbo was housed in the Barnum Museum until 1975, when much of the building and its contents, including Jumbo, were destroyed by fire. The next day, a member of the Department of Athletics salvaged ashes from the site where Jumbo had stood, and the jar of ashes continues to serve as a good luck charm for Tufts athletics teams.

Source: MS002/-003

Subject terms:
  • The encyclopedia seeks to capture more than 150 years of Tufts' achievements, societal contributions and outstanding alumni and faculty in concise entries. As a source of accurate factual information, the Encyclopedia can be used by anyone interested in the history of Tufts and of the people who have made it the unique institution it is.
This object is in collection Subject Temporal Permanent URL
Component ID:
To Cite:
TARC Citation Guide    EndNote
Detailed Rights
View all images in this book
Numeric Entries
Dame, Lorin Low, 1838-1903
Dana, Charles A., 1881-1975
Dana Laboratory, 1963
Daniel Ounjian Prize in Economics,
Davies, Caroline Stodder, 1864-1939
Davies House, 1894
De Florez Prize in Human Engineering, 1964
de Pacheco, Kaye MacKinnon, ca. 1910-ca. 1985
Dean Hall, 1887-1963
Dean, Oliver, 1783-1871
Dearborn, Heman Allen, 1831-1897
Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology, 1893
Department of Anesthesia, 1970
Department of Art and Art History, 1930
Department of Biochemistry, 1893
Department of Chemistry, 1882
Department of Community Health, 1930
Department of Dermatology, 1897
The Department of Economics, 1946
Department of Medicine, 1893
Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology
Department of Neurology, 1893
Department of Neuroscience, 1983
Department of Neurosurgery, 1951
Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 1893
Department of Ophthamology, 1893
Department of Orthopedic Surgery, 1906
Department of Otolaryngology, 1895
Department of Pathology, 1893
Department of Pediatrics, 1930
Department of Pharmacology, 1915
Department of Physics and Astronomy, 1854
Department of Physiology, 1893
Department of Psychiatry, 1928
Department of Radiation Oncology, 1968
Department of Radiology, 1915
Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, 1955
Department of Surgery, 1893
Department of Urban and Environmental Policy, 1973
Department of Urology, 1910
Dental Health Sciences Building, 1969
Dewick, Cora Alma (Polk), 1875-1977
Dewick/MacPhie Dining Hall, 1959
Dickson Professorship of English and American History, 1913
Dirlam, Arland A., 1905-1979
Dog Cart, 1900
Dolbear, Amos Emerson, 1837-1910
Donald A. Cowdery Memorial Scholarship, 1946
Dr. Benjamin Andrews Professorship of Surgery, 1987
Dr. Philip E. A. Sheridan Prize, 1977
The Drug Bust, 1970
Dudley, Henry Watson, 1831-1906
Dugger, Edward Jr., 1919-75
Durkee, Frank W., 1861-1939
Durkee, Henrietta Noble Brown, 1871-1946
 List of Sources