Old Bet the Elephant
Somers, New York
One of the oldest memorials in America belongs, fittingly, to one the first elephants brought to America. This was Old Bet, since ennobled as "the mother of America's carnival business."
Old Bet was an African elephant who arrived in Boston in 1804. She was then known as Betty, and was being exhibited when she was spotted by a farmer named Hachaliah Bailey, who apparently was smitten. Imagine his shock when, four years later, he stumbled across her for sale in one of New York City's cattle markets. Hachaliah, who saw her as something more than three tons of ambulatory meat, bought the elephant and brought her back to his home town of Somers. He figured that he could charge his neighbors for a peek.
Hachaliah was right. The newly named Old Bet was a hit. Within a few years Hachaliah had become much less a farmer and much more a circus showman, showcasing a ragged menagerie of animals that included a trained dog, several pigs, a horse, and Old Bet, who was the main draw.
Hachaliah decided to take his animals on the road in search of greater profits. It proved to be a fatal decision for Old Bet. On July 24 1816, while on tour near Alfred, Maine, she was shot and killed. The farmer who murdered her thought that it was sinful for poor people to spend money to see an elephant.
The monument to Old Bet was erected in 1827 outside the Elephant Hotel. Visitors to its third floor can check out the Museum of the Early American Circus, devoted to the story of Hachaliah Bailey, Old Bet, and the beginnings of the circus in America.
Old Bet is buried along Route 4 in Alfred, Maine.