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  • Writer's pictureNancy Rogers

Killed by an Elephant

it’s not everyday that you see a headstone with an elephant on it, but you will if you visit Elmwood Cemetery in Charlotte. The memorial is a five-foot obelisk of cream-colored marble marking the grave of John King. Below his name is the depiction of an elephant with a palm tree, and a faint inscription stating that King was killed by an elephant named Chief.

There were newspaper accounts of the incident and this is the story:

John King was an animal trainer for the John Robinson Circus, which had finished performing in Charlotte and was preparing to take to the road.There are rumors that King was cruel to Chief, along with a female elephant named Mary, and Chief’s offspring, Big Boy. One account said that King would burn Chief’s belly with torches to control him.

That may or may not be true, but it is known that on the night of September 27, 1880, Chief went on a rampage and deliberately crushed King to death possible against a railroad car.

King’s remains (what was left of him) were interred at Elmwood with great fanfare, including a parade led by Chief’s girlfriend, Mary.




Chief ended up in a zoo in Cincinnati, where he went on to kill two other people. Chief fate was pretty grisly. He was shot to death by a firing squad, stuffed and pulled around town like a Victorian-era pull toy. There’s even a story that his body parts were roasted and served up to local hotel guests. Let’s hope that part of the story isn’t true.

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