Today, The 110th Anniversary Of Thomas Edison’s Brutal Murder Of Coney Island’s Topsy The Elephant

The tale of Topsy the Elephant is sad and cruel, and today marks the 110th year since her grisly demise at the hands of Thomas Edison’s staged electrocution on Coney Island at Luna Park.

Topsy was a female circus elephant who never was comfortable with her captivity. Over her 28-year lifespan, she killed three men including a sadistic and abusive trainer who tried to feed Topsy lit cigarettes as food. Because of Topsy’s infractions towards her brutal masters, she was deemed too dangerous to live.

Originally, Topsy’s Luna Park owners wanted to kill her by hanging, but according to Wikipedia, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals stepped in and prevented that from happening. Although, quite frankly, in today’s world the logistics of hanging an elephant seem far more amazing than any of the alternatives.

But that’s today’s world. One hundred years ago, the alternative offered by famed inventor Thomas Edison was nearly magical. Edison stepped up and had the bright idea of electrocuting Topsy to death. Why that wasn’t considered cruel is beyond me, but everyone was willing to go along with it. It was just that kind of world.

Edison’s motives were to use poor Topsy as a prop in his ongoing war against Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla’s far superior Alternating Current electrical system. Edison, the inventor of the clearly inferior Direct Current method, juiced Topsy with 6,600 volts of Tesla’s AC, dropping her in seconds.

More than 1,500 spectators gathered at Luna Park on January 4, 1903, to witness the grim spectacle, and Edison filmed the execution as “evidence” of AC’s unsafe nature.

Edison distributed his short film throughout the United States, providing one of the earliest examples of filmed corporate propaganda. Ultimately, DC won the battle for America’s infrastructure in large part because of this flick.

While Topsy’s fate was tragic, her memory lives on in the form of a memorial erected at the Coney Island Museum on July 20, 2003.


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