Hannibal the 15,000 Pound Elephant Visited Battle Creek & Broke a Bridge in the 1850s
This is the tale of Hannibal, the 15,000-pound elephant whose weight broke a bridge and fell into the mill race in Battle Creek in the 1850s. They say elephants have long memories. With Hannibal, it must be true. He could not be persuaded to cross the bridge in subsequent visits.
Local historian Michael Delaware recently told this story through his podcast 'Tales of Southwest Michigan History' as well as on his YouTube page. He shared some very interesting information with us about Hannibal, his visits to Michigan, and elephants in general.
In the mid-1850's the Van Amburgh Managerie Show came to Battle Creek and they brought the largest elephant to ever tour North America. These types of shows didn't always make it to smaller cities, but since Battle Creek, and other towns like Kalamazoo, Jackson, and Ann Arbor were basically along a straight line between Detroit and Chicago, they were often privileged to these unique shows.
Keep in mind that in today's age, we can easily look up a photo or video on the internet to see what an elephant, or any animal, looks like. In the 1850s, photographed images were still generally rare, so the only way most people saw what exotic animals looked like was either on a vacation or through rendered images. So imagine what the reaction would be to seeing an elephant walking down the middle of the road in your town? It would be unforgettable.
Hannibal was said to weigh 3000 pounds more than the famous "Jumbo" of the P.T. Barnum Circus. And he also toured for over four decades. But in Battle Creek, his first visit was not very fun as he had a pretty big mishap.
A Battle Creek newspaper in 1886 called the Sunday Morning Call wrote an article about 30 years after Hannibal's visit. Here's part of a transcript from that article:
"When Hannibal came to Battle Creek, while marching majestically down Main St., the old pachyderm stepped on the Mill Race bridge and went into the Mill Race with a crash and a splash. And the bridge having given way with his great weight, the kids that were lining up the roadway were watching the incident. They went wild with excitement while old Hannibal was bellowing and the showman shouted and the women screamed. The boys enjoyed the spectacle."
Luckily for Hannibal, he had been trained in the circus to pick up posts and hold tent stakes. He was able to get himself out of the water by picking up the logs and crossbeams by putting them aside so he could climb up the embankment. When he came to Battle Creek again some years later, he refused to cross the bridge again. So they had to take him through another part of town.
Hannibal sadly died in 1865 after eating poisonous laurel while in Pennsylvania. And his troubles even persisted after his death. His bones were sent to a museum in Chicago, but were destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
Here is more in-depth look at Hannibal's history in Battle Creek and some other fun facts courtesy of Michael Delaware from his YouTube page:
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