Marker and original statue at the grave of the elephant, Norma Jean.
Marker and original statue at the grave of the elephant, Norma Jean.

Norma Jean, Elephant Killed By Lightning

Field review by the editors.

Oquawka, Illinois

Died 1972

Pet Cemetery.

Norma Jean was a 6,500-pound elephant and the star attraction of the Clark and Walters Circus. That ended abruptly on the morning of July 17, 1972, when she was struck and killed by a bolt of lightning. Her trainer, "Possum Red," was knocked 30 feet by the blast. With no elephant, the Circus went out of business a year later.

Norma Jean was buried where she fell -- which, conveniently, was in Oquawka's town square. Oquawka filled in the pit and walked away, apparently hoping that everyone would forget that Norma Jean had ever existed. Not so fast, said Wade Meloan, a local druggist. He raised enough money to commission a twelve-foot-tall limestone tombstone for Norma Jean, and he raised the consciousness of the town enough to let him erect it in the square.

Today, signs pointing towards "Elephant Killed By Lightning" direct dumbstruck tourists to Norma Jean's grave from all points in Oquawka. A collection of Norma Jean memorabilia is displayed in a glass case, and a small concrete elephant is perched atop the tombstone. A plaque on it reads: "This memorial is dedicated in memory of an elephant named Norma Jean, who was killed by lightning at this location, and lies buried here."

Explained Wade: "I just didn't think that ending seemed proper for someone who had been a circus star."

Norma Jean is celebrated each August by a festival in Oquawka that includes an elephant walk, white elephant sale and a bake sale featuring "elephant ears."

Also see: Elephant Burial Ground | Roadside Pet Cemetery

Norma Jean, Elephant Killed By Lightning

5th St., Oquawka, IL
Signs pointing toward "Elephant Killed By Lightning" direct you to Norma Jean's grave from all points in Oquawka. 164 goes into town - heading north, turn left on Schuyler (stop light), then right on 5th. It is on 5th between Mercer and Clay, on the right-hand side. If you're heading west on 164 then go straight on Schuyler and turn right on 5th.
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