Lizzie at John Robinson Circus

† Lizzie
ID Number:
Species: Asian elephant (Elephas maximus)
Sex and age:Female ♀ 25 years old
Dead date: 1913-03-31
Death reason: accident: drowned in Hoboken
Location:John Robinson Circus
ArrivedJohn Robinson Circus
Born:1888 wild
Document updated2007-07-13
Holly Metz, a guest curator with the Hoboken
New Jersey Historical Museum has written in the publication “City Animals:

“Sometimes circus performers
- human and animal - made
headlines when the companies’
carefully orchestrated activities
went awry, and threats of danger
and potential death, always an undercurrent
in their shows, became
reality. On March 31, 1913, the
front pages of the New York Times,
Hudson Dispatch and Jersey
Journal reported the startling
death in Hoboken of an elephant
from the John Robinson Military
Circus (1). Five elephants, after
performing stunts during a weeklong
engagement on 14th Street
in New York City (including the firing
of cannons and miming rescues),
were transported just before
midnight by ferry to Hoboken.
Third-generation Robinson Circus
owner John G. Robinson was
working with his trainers to bring
the elephants to railroad cars waiting
to take them to their next
venue in Cortland, New York.
Lizzie, the largest of the troop,
alarmed by a train roaring overhead
on the elevated line, broke
away from her trainer, “leaped
over a low stone wall into Ferry
Street” and “trumpeting madly,”

began to “plunge along Washington
Street to Newark Street.” The
streets were crowded with people
returning from New York, and
news reports describe women
pulling their children to safety and
the racing elephant overturning a
heavy milk wagon. Robinson and
his crew, soon accompanied by a
crowd of hooting men and boys,
chased Lizzie and tried in vain to
capture her as she rushed down
the Christopher Street slip into the
ferry-house. The Jersey Journal
account described ferry attendants
attempting to stop the elephant
by beating her on the head
with boat hooks, but she pushed
through the iron gates and on to
the ferryboat Drummond, which
was tied up for the night.
With a mad cry the beast lumbered
aboard the boat, bounded
through the wagon cabin and
plunged into the Hudson... For ten
minutes she surged in the river,
trumpeting violently and slashing
the water with her trunk and feet.
After a little, however, she emitted
one more cry and sank to the
bottom.
Robinson who had tried with his
assistants to rescue Lizzie by pulling
her in with a strong rope, “sat
down on the deck and cried like a
baby. He had had Lizzie nearly all
the twenty-five years of her life.”
The following day, Lizzie’s body
washed ashore at Staten Island.
“Rumors were flying around that a
vessel has been driven ashore in the storm,” the Staten Island World
announced. “Investigation revealed
the carcass of an elephant
floating around in about thirty feet
of water.” By evening, “fully three
thousand people had gathered on
the foreshore to view the body,” the
Hudson Dispatch reported, “and
the police had to be called out to
maintain order.” Lizzie’s body was
to be transported to Fire Island for
burial but no record of the interment
has been found (2).
John Robinson remained
deeply devoted to the remaining
elephants in his care. Even after
bankruptcy forced him in 1916 to
sell most of his equipment and animals
to other circuses, he kept four
elephants on his Terrace Park,
Ohio, property, which had always
served as their winter quarters.
After Robinson’s death in 1921, his
widow continued the practice and
the elephants became an unusual
fixture of the village. Local historians
report “it was commonplace to
see an elephant pulling a plow for
a spring garden” or wandering
around Terrace Park streets (3).

(1) The drowning of the John Robison circus elephant in Hoboken is described on the front pages of the following March 31, 1913 newspapers: “New York
Times; “Jersey Journal”; and “Hudson Dispatch”. (2) Staten Island World, 5 April 1913; Hudson Dispatch, 1 April 1913. (3) Ellis Rawnsley, “A Place Called
Terrace Park”.

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