Elephant figure on a pole.

Old Bet the Elephant

Field review by the editors.

Somers, New York

Died 1816

Pet Cemetery.

The oldest elephant memorial 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 in Beantown 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 Old Bet 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. 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 obviously was the main draw.

Hachaliah decided to take his animals on the road in search of greater profits. It proved to be a fateful decision for Old Bet. On July 24 1816, while on tour near Alfred, ME, she was shot and killed. The angry farmer who murdered her thought that it was sinful for poor people to spend money to see an elephant.

Elephant Hotel.

On the third floor of the Elephant Hotel visitors 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.

Also see: Elephant Burial Ground | Roadside Pet Cemetery

Old Bet the Elephant

Somers Town Hall

335 U.S. 202, Somers, NY
Museum of the Early American Circus in the Somers Town Hall. West of I-684 at Somerstown Tpke/Hwy 100 and US Hwy 202.
Museum - Th 2-4 pm; 2nd, 4th Su each month, 1 - 4 pm. (Call to verify)
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May 28, 2016

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