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Topsy: the startling story of the crooked-tailed elephant, P.T. Barnum, and the American wizard, Thomas Edision

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In 1903 at the soon-to-open Luna Park on Coney Island, an elephant named Topsy was electrocuted, likely with advice from Thomas Edison, whose film crew recorded the horrible event. Over the past century, this bizarre, ghoulish execution has reverberated through popular culture with the ring of an urban legend. But it really happened, and today, Edison's footage can be found on YouTube, where it has been viewed nearly two million times. Many historical forces conspired to bring Topsy, Edison, and those 6,600 volts of alternating current together at Coney Island that day. Journalist Michael Daly's Topsy is a fascinating popular history that traces them, from the rise of the circus in America and the lives of circus elephants, through Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and the war of the currents, to the birth of Coney Island. Daly's book starts with the 1796 arrival of the first elephant to set foot in America. She was called simply the Elephant, and while her performance didn't go far beyond uncapping bottles of beer with her trunk and drinking, she drew large paying crowds up and down the Eastern Seaboard--so large, in fact, that her owners walked her from town to town in the dark to avoid anyone getting a free look. Other elephants followed but essentially as solo curiosities. It wasn't until the years after the Civil War that the circus in America boomed, thanks especially to magnates P. T. Barnum and Adam Forepaugh, who are major characters in Topsy. Their constant competition and efforts to outdo each other led Forepaugh to hatch an outlandish scheme in 1877. At an incredibly dynamic time in American history, with the country growing and immigration on the rise, Forepaugh understood that it was the first American-born child of an immigrant family that often offered a real anchor. So he smuggled in a baby elephant captured in the wild in Asia (most likely Ceylon, now Sri Lanka), and passed it off as a true American--the first elephant born in captivity. He said he wouldn't sell her for $20,000. Barnum, who had been offered the same elephant from a dealer in Hamburg, called his bluff, saying he'd pay $100,000 for an American-born baby. This was just one of the battles in the war of the elephants. Forepaugh went big, billing one of his herd as the largest, so Barnum went bigger, importing an elephant from England named Jumbo. Barnum claimed he'd been hunting for an elusive "holy" white elephant for years, so Forepaugh simply painted one of his and concocted an exotic backstory that involved Thai royalty. Rich in fantastic detail, Topsy brings to life the world of the circus, the caravans and sideshows, the astonishing athletic spectacles, and the crooks. Daly highlights the differences between Forepaugh and Barnum. The latter was the gold standard, a master showman and spinner of humbug whose circus was nevertheless known as the Sunday School Show. Forepaugh played to a rougher crowd and even traveled with his own team of pickpockets, who paid a sort of daily licensing fee to work the crowd. They even stole clothes from laundry lines while the people in small towns watched the circus parade. And all circuses resorted to "rat bills," slanderous advertisements pasted along the routes. When one circus made use of electric lights to brightly illuminate the previously dim tents, another warned the public of the lighting's supposedly dire health risks. Similar to the contrasting morals of the shows, elephant trainers had a striking dichotomy. Most resorted to horrible violence and cruelty to bend elephants to their will, to "tame" them. Occasionally, as happens later with Topsy, the elephants met violence with violence, killing trainers or breaking free, and were subsequently branded "bad" elephants. In contrast were Stewart Craven and Eph Thompson, two trainers who are the heroes of this book. Craven was one of the most famous trainers in the country, and he was well paid for his work. Thompson, his protege, being black, was slig
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ISBN:
9780802119049
9781624606342
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Grouped Work ID b87bc393-290c-a7db-7ee8-0ae2734f8f7f
Full title topsy the startling story of the crooked tailed elephant p t barnum and the american wizard thomas e
Author daly michael
Grouping Category book
Last Update 2018-05-26 23:36:46PM
Last Indexed 2018-05-27 00:14:28AM

Solr Details

accelerated_reader_interest_level
accelerated_reader_point_value 0
accelerated_reader_reading_level 0
author Daly, Michael, 1952-
author_display Daly, Michael
available_at_catalog Main Kids, Main Library
collection_catalog Non-Fiction
detailed_location_catalog Main Library - Adult Non-Fiction
display_description

In 1903 at the soon-to-open Luna Park on Coney Island, an elephant named Topsy was electrocuted, likely with advice from Thomas Edison, whose film crew recorded the horrible event. Over the past century, this bizarre, ghoulish execution has reverberated through popular culture with the ring of an urban legend. But it really happened, and today, Edison's footage can be found on YouTube, where it has been viewed nearly two million times.

Many historical forces conspired to bring Topsy, Edison, and those 6,600 volts of alternating current together at Coney Island that day. Journalist Michael Daly's Topsy is a fascinating popular history that traces them, from the rise of the circus in America and the lives of circus elephants, through Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and the war of the currents, to the birth of Coney Island.

Throughout the book, Daly follows Topsy's picaresque life up to the point of her death, from her capture, the roar of the crowd, life on the endless road, and the tormenting of her trainers, weaving her tale through other big stories such as P. T. Barnum and Adam Forepaugh's circus rivalry, trainers Stewart Craven and Eph Thompson's kindness to the animals, and Thomas Edison's attempt to prove alternating current was far more dangerous than his direct current. It's a touching tale, and it is impossible to read Topsy and look at the circus, elephants, or Thomas Edison the same way again. Above all, Topsy is an entertaining read that brings to life this remarkable world and its characters.

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last_indexed 2018-05-27T05:14:28.377Z
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literary_form Non Fiction
literary_form_full Non Fiction
local_callnumber_catalog 791.32 D1536t
owning_library_catalog Nashville Public Library
owning_location_catalog Main Kids, Main Library
primary_isbn 9780802119049
publishDate 2013
record_details ils:CARL0000416095|Book|Books|1st ed.|English|Atlantic Monthly Press,|c2013.|viii, 369 p. : col. ill. ; 24 cm., overdrive:f78c3286-b0df-4103-94f9-53e509e4cfc1|eAudiobook|Audio Books||English|Blackstone Publishing|2013|
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subject_facet Barnum, P. T. -- (Phineas Taylor), -- 1810-1891, Circus -- United States -- History, Circus owners -- United States -- Biography, Edison, Thomas A. -- (Thomas Alva), -- 1847-1931, Electrocution -- Experiments, Inventors -- United States -- Biography, Topsy (elephant)
title_display Topsy : the startling story of the crooked-tailed elephant, P.T. Barnum, and the American wizard, Thomas Edision
title_full Topsy : the startling story of the crooked-tailed elephant, P.T. Barnum, and the American wizard, Thomas Edision / Michael Daly, Topsy The Startling Story of the Crooked Tailed Elephant, P. T. Barnum, and The American Wizard, Thomas Edison
title_short Topsy :
title_sub the startling story of the crooked-tailed elephant, P.T. Barnum, and the American wizard, Thomas Edision
topic_facet Barnum, P. T, Circus, Circus owners, Edison, Thomas A, Electrocution, Experiments, History, Inventors, Nonfiction, Topsy (elephant)