Topsy the Elephant is Electrocuted

Topsy the elephant is electrocuted to death at Luna Park in New York
Topsy the elephant is electrocuted to death at Luna Park in New York

Historical Context

Topsy the Elephant gained notoriety in America as part of the Forepaugh Circus when she killed a spectator in 1902 and was subsequently sold off to Luna Park. After this her reputation worsened, partly because of her alcoholic handler and the decision of her owners Frederick Thompson and Elmer Dundy to exploit her for PR purposes.

To this end they decided to execute her. Their horrific original plan to hang her at the park was stopped by the SPCA. Instead they decided to electrocute her, which they did in front of press, and a camera crew from Edison Manufacturing movie company filmed the incident - possibly the first filmed death of an animal.

The cruel act became notorious later on as the subject of an urban legend that Thomas Edison had ordered the elephant electrocuted in order to prove the danger of alternating current electricity during the War of Currents. This is false - the war between AC and DC took place ten years before the death of Topsy and Edison was never at Luna Park.

Photo Info


Photographer: Unknown; press photo
Date taken: January 4, 1903
Location taken: Coney Island, New York, USA

Source: Wikimedia Commons

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  • 1903-01-04 Topsy the elephant is electrocuted by her owners at Luna Park, Coney Island and filmed by Edison Manufacturing movie company

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