umbo: The Greatest Elephant in the World
by Paul Chambers
From “impoverished childhood” to “posthumous exploitation,” Jumbo endured a journey that could be “the stuff of an E! True Hollywood Story,” said Gary Susman in Entertainment Weekly. Even though author Paul Chambers fails to fully explain how Jumbo became so famous, his slim new book “does a remarkable job” of re-creating the elephant’s strange world and bringing his human handlers to life. Some of the most touching passages in this “gentle, well-wrought book” concern Jumbo’s “marriage” to a younger elephant named Alice, said Carol Herman in The Washington Times. Alice apparently put up with Jumbo’s occasional drinking, and Chambers’ descriptions of the couple’s bonding give this bittersweet tale a warm heart.
P.T. Barnum squeezed every cent he could out of his investment in Jumbo, said James Sullivan in The Boston Globe. Barnum duped the public into believing that Jumbo was the largest mammal in captivity, and he probably manufactured the heroic details about the animal’s demise. Barnum eventually shipped Jumbo’s skeleton to his American Museum in New York and used the animal’s mounted hide as the centerpiece of the Barnum Museum of Natural History at Tufts University. Though a 1975 fire destroyed most of stuffed Jumbo, his tail escaped: Visitors had made such a tradition of tugging the tail for luck that it had broken off years before. Today it resides “in an old Peter Pan Crunchy Peanut Butter jar” in the office of the university’s athletic director.
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