Grave of Thirsty Mary the Elephant
If you were an elephant, you couldn't like your odds as a member of the Sells Floto Circus. In 1908, Sells elephants stampeded through Riverside, CA. One named Snyder crushed a woman to death. In 1920, Snyder went berserk again in Salina, Kansas, and this time was shot dead by a group using steel nosed bullets from the local military academy. A dangerous rogue named Charlie Ed toured with Sells Floto, then, after they got rid of him to San Francisco's zoo (under the name Wally) he was executed by a firing squad of San Francisco lawmen after goring his keeper to death.
It was in this midst that the Sells-Floto circus pulled into the town of Lewiston, Idaho back in August 9, 1928. The temperature was over 100 degrees. Elephant trainers were having difficulty getting the elephants out of their cages. There was no water anywhere.
A huge Asian elephant named Mary got thirsty. She broke away from her trainers and dashed down a crowded Main Street, looking for a drink. According to reporters, as she ran, she mistook store front windows for shimmering pools of water, and repeatedly smashed them, spreading glass, noise and panic throughout the business district.
Elephant trainers managed to get in front of Mary in an effort to disperse the crowds, but missed two schoolteachers, who were chatting near a garage on the 300 block. Inside the garage, someone had been washing cars. With water. Mary caught the scent, and trampled towards it.
Meanwhile, someone alerted the mayor, Dr. Braddock, who was not only the mayor and a doctor, but also an accomplished big game hunter. He immediately went home for his gun.
The teachers ran screaming into the garage and up the stairs to a mezzanine and safety. Mary reached water. Handlers arrived to calm her down. Then Dr. Braddock entered with his gun, and with several well-placed shots, sent another Sells Floto elephant packing.
Today, Mary's trunk is displayed in a private collection. And there is a small plaque at the site of the old garage, telling people that a elephant was shot here, when "She was only trying to find a drink of water!" We say the plaque ignores the climate of the times, one in which traveling elephants routinely broke free and rampaged. The mayor was reelected.