Elephant figure on a pole.

Old Bet the Elephant

Field review by the editors.

Somers, New York

Died 1816

Pet Cemetery.

One of the oldest memorials in America honors one the first elephants brought to America. This was Old Bet, later 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 discovered 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, exhibiting 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.

Elephant Hotel.

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.

The spot where Old Bet was killed (and likely buried) is marked by a tiny plaque on a little rock along the roadside of Route 4 in 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; 2nd, 4th Su each month, 1-4. (Call to verify)
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