Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History
|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.