Topsy, one of the most famous elephants in history, is the subject of a fascinating new book by Michael Daly. The New York Daily News is reporting that the elephant, electrocuted to death in Coney Island, was not a murderous beast deserving of a cruel death.
This past January marked the 110th anniversary of the death of Topsy, who was believed to have been electrocuted as part of a stunt orchestrated by Thomas Edison to falsely portray the dangers of Nikola Tesla’s far superior Alternating Current electrical system. The book discredits this famous telling as a myth. Edison, who filmed the spectacle at Luna Park in 1903, was apparently furious over having already lost the “current war” and merely wanted to be the first man to record a live death of any kind on film.
The reason for cooking Topsy with 6,600 volts of electricity was that he had killed a trainer, who by all accounts was one of many brutal taskmasters that marked Topsy’s sad life. The book details how Topsy’s owners once threw lit cigars in his mouth.
Another stunning revelation was that Topsy was fed poisoned carrots in case the electricity wouldn’t kill him. Disgusting. The book also tracks the many characters that made up Coney Island’s long circus history including a fascinating anecdote over the invention of pink lemonade.
All in and all, Michael Daly’s Topsy goes a long way in exonerating Topsy’s status as a deranged elephant that needed to be put down, instead offering up Topsy as a landmark figure in the history of the evolution of animal cruelty.