The sad, strange story of a taxidermied elephant

Fritz the elephant, once a remarkable specimen of the Proboscidea family, stands forever unmoving in the covered stable beside a garden in Tours, France. The provincial grounds don't have an elephant theme, Tours, French for towers, isn't associated with elephants in any way. France is home to a few elephants in various zoos, there are probably some sculptures scattered around depicting the creatures, but nothing about the species screams Tours, France, at least prior to Fritz's arrival, anyway. So why here, in the Musee des Beaux-Arts Garden in a city famed for its cathedral and cheese, naturally, in the least populated region of France?

Two proprietors in the entertainment industry, I'm certain you've heard of them, were instrumental in the business of carting elephants around in a big caravan all the world over. Fritz was a star of the show, though there's little glamour in being forced to run away with the circus by threat of hooks and knives. Barnum and Bailey's circus has retained a notorious reputation for the past treatment of its animals, and the conditions in the early 1900s were likely some of the worst. 

Fritz, an Asian elephant born free sometime in the 1860s, suffered through a life of misery at the hands of his trainers. On Barnum and Bailey's European tour, Fritz, one of about 50 elephants in the show, became irate. His aggression began in Bordeaux and came to a peak in Tours. While the elephants were on parade through the city's center, Fritz's fury exploded. He charged and attempted to escape. Onlookers were terrified. Deemed uncontrollable by his captors, the unfortunate animal was agonizingly strangled to death, his body subsequently donated to the city, and rather quickly and for reasons mostly unclear, stuffed. The Elephant Encyclopedia, my new favorite website, describes his death rather vividly as an execution.

And now he stands in the former stables of the Museum of Fine Arts, behind a transparent partition, a cultural icon to the city of Tours. 

It's one of the stranger monuments out there. Reluctant circus animals might have read the city's mumification gesture in the same way a conscripted gladiator would have following the Roman Empire's response to Spartacus' revolt. Guess I better not do that, then.

Luckily, the locals have a less dour look on this gigantic piece of taxidermy. Fritz appears in Tours Tour guides, he's a mascot for Tours on world animal day, and his name and appearance help raise awareness for animal wellfare. His skeleton is upstairs.

However the French choose to reimagine the spectacle of the taxidermied body of Fritz, I will continue to find the whole story a bit grim.

Oh, and there's a Tours-based magazine aimed at the youth titled Fritz.

Photo: Etienne3734 (CC BY 4.0)

Previously: Taxidermied teacup tauntaun made from antique ram`s head