Topsy the Elephant was poisoned, electrocuted and hung by her owners on January 4th 1903.

Although known as a ‘bad elephant’ this was almost certainly as a result of mistreatment by her handlers and owners. She was regularly abused and eventually this lead her to kill a spectator.

The owners of the park in which she resided constructed end-of-the-year plans to hang Topsy at the park in a public spectacle and charge admission were stopped by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The event was cut back to invited guests and press only and Thompson and Dundy (Topsy’s owners at the time) agreed to use a more sure method of strangling the elephant with large ropes tied to a steam-powered winch with poison and electrocution planned for good measure.

On January 4, 1903, in front of a small crowd of invited reporters and guests Topsy was fed poison, electrocuted, and strangled, the electrocution ultimately killing her. Amongst the press that day was a crew from the Edison Manufacturing movie company who filmed the event. Their film of the electrocution part was released to be viewed in coin operated kinetoscopes under the title Electrocuting an Elephant. It is probably the first filmed death of an animal in history.

On July 20, 2003, a memorial for Topsy was erected at the Coney Island Museum.

The incident is just another example of how the accumulation of profit, for some, trumps all suffering and exploitation.

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