Relics of a Mad Elephant

Field review by the editors.

Elkton, South Dakota

The circus came to town on May 14, 1916, bringing with it a large elephant named Hero. For a five-ton creature in show biz captivity, he was usually docile and well-behaved, but not on that day. Hero went insane, smashed a lot of circus equipment, and nearly killed his keeper. He then ran out into the countryside, followed by everyone in town who had a gun. Bullets and buckshot only made him angrier, but his eyes were eventually shot out and he was killed after over 12 hours on the run.

Hero's bones were put on display at the South Dakota State Museum -- now the W.H. Over Museum -- in far-away Vermillion, an act which riles Elkton to this day. "They won't part with at least one of 'em and give it to us," said Anastasia Gebhart at the Museum. Her ire softened somewhat when we told her that the bones were a popular exhibit in Vermillion. "Well, that's good," she said. "As long as they're gettin' some use."

Despite the lack of bones, the Community Museum in Elkton does have some unique Hero items on display, such as the gun that fired the fatal shot, a travel bag made out of Hero's skin, and "a little tiny hunk of regular hide, 3-inch square," according to Anastasia, that was given to her by her grandfather, and subsequently turned into an exhibit here.

Relics of a Mad Elephant

Elkton Community Museum

105 Elk St., Elkton, SD
Elkton Community Museum. I-29 exit 127. East on Hwy 218 for 8.5 miles, then turn left (east) onto Hwy 13 for five miles. When you arrive at Elkton, turn right (east) onto North Drive for three blocks. Then turn right (south) onto Elk St.
M-F 9 am - 3 pm. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
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