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The Eastside Hill Elephant: Fact or Fiction?

Submitted by Editor on April 9, 2010 – 3:33 am | Print or Email »15 Comments

by Kristen Gundry

Since I have moved to the Eastside Hill a few years ago, I am in awe at the number of elephant stories floating around. I have heard rumors that somewhere on the Eastside Hill there lie the remains of an elephant. I have also heard folks say that the big tree on the corner of Badger and Margaret has long been known as the elephant tree. Then there are the stories of the elephants marching in the circus parade right through our historically fabulous neighborhood.

When I drove by the famed elephant tree on my way home one day, I thought to myself that the tree resembles an elephant’s foot. I hypothesized that was why it was called the elephant tree. When I shared my hypothesis, I was told me that when the circus was in town that was the tree they tied the elephants too, and hence the fame of Elephant Tree. Why this is known to generations of Eastside Hillers remains a mystery to me. However another Eastside Hill elephant mystery has been solved.

At the yearly picnic, I heard some neighbors talking about the elephant that is buried on the Eastside Hill. I had decided it must be buried on the corner of Badger and Margaret and THAT is why it was called the elephant tree. I wrote to the historian at the Chippewa Valley Museum and quickly got a response from Elborg Tobin. This is what I read:

According to the Rivers Flow On, by Lois Barland, lightning in 1901 killed an elephant that was part of the Wallace Brothers Circus. In 1950 excavators uncovered bones of an elephant at 1610 Hogeboom. The elephant had originally been buried near the intersection of Roosevelt and Garfield, and contractors grading that area in 1902 dug up the remains and reburied them at Hogeboom.

So we have our answer, somewhere close to Swanson’s Realty (the old Tim’s Dairy) restfully sleeps an unlucky elephant—and may h/she continue to do so! However, I have a hard time believing that among the thousands of folks on the Eastside Hill not one of you knows how the elephant tree got its name. If you have your own theory or know some facts, please share them with me.

UPDATE! After the above article was originally published in May of 2006 …

We received one phone call regarding the Elephants on Eastside Hill article from our spring issue. The call was a tip for us to contact gentlemen named Roger Repal who grew up on the Eastside Hill in the 1940’s.

Roger Repal didn’t know about the mysterious term “elephant tree”, but he did have memories of when Barnum and Bailey Circus came to our area by rail with more than 30 elephants. The Barnum and Bailey Circus kept their elephants on the corner of Margaret and Plank Street because of the proximity to a fire hydrant for drinks and baths.

The herd brought great excitement to the streets we now call home. Mr. Repal giggled a bit as he remembered the curiosity the children had for the LARGE piles left behind the elephants. The circus people would march the elephants trunk to tail in a long chain down Hastings past Foster’s Grocery (currently The Potting Shed) to the circus tents that stood where Memorial High School now sits. There they would put on some of the best circus acts in history.

We learned that Barnum and Bailey didn’t keep their elephants tied to our tree, but perhaps another circus did. The Cole Circus and the Wallace Brothers Circus also made stops in Eau Claire and Mr. Repal did not believe they brought as many elephants along. Perhaps it was one of these circuses that tied their elephants to the tree.

If we have peeked your interest in circus history plan a road trip to Baraboo to the Circus World Museum or visit them online: http://www.wisconsinhistory.org

We learned a little more about the history of our fabulous neighborhood. If have any other memories from our neighborhood please give me at call at 833-1059.

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15 Comments »

  • Ryan says:

    When we were in elementary school at Boyd, one of the classes put on a production all about East Hill history. One of the groups was responsible for talking about the elephant, and we were told that the elephant is buried, sans feet. Whether this is true or not, the teachers told us that the elephants feet were cut off, and sent to a fancy restuarant in New York, because apparently they were a deliacacy.

  • Hilary says:

    Holy crap, this is my address! Seriously? Well, if there is an elephant in my yard, it is full of moles!

  • Tami says:

    I grew up across the st. from the infamous elephant. When you look at the lot and how the house at 1610 is placed it sort of makes sense.

    If you notice unlike all the rest of the homes on Hogeboom 1610 is set wayyy back on the lot.

    The elephant was first found when the folks were starting to dig a foundation for the house.

    I’ve been told that after they found it they brought in experts to find out the history of the beast. This was taking time away from building the house so the property owners started digging the foundation toward the back.

    Anyway, to make a long story short. The circus elephant died. Somehow it ended up buried on Hogeboom. The feet were harvested by “Snake Oil” salesmen who made remedies from the hooves. I guess in some ways the folks at 1610 have been lucky that they haven’t had a big sink hole where the carcass disintegrated.

  • Hilary says:

    See, now there are facts that don’t jibe with the elephant being buried at 1610 Hogeboom.
    The house was built in 1901, well before the elephant was moved to whatever location it currently resides, so the house being built so far back from the road would have nothing to do with an elephant being buried in the yard.
    Also, there used to be a number of very large, old trees in the yard, placed in such spots that really makes the possibility of an elephant unrealistic.
    As far as sink holes – there are many small ones, due to the yard being overrun with moles…as well as large “craters” where the trees used to be.
    I may start digging:)

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      keep up the great work, I’ll check back again real soon!

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    • Roy says:

      The road was worked on around 1902, the Bones were moved to lot at 1610, Not the complete Elephant , it was mostly bones .. So the hole needed to hide the Bones does not need to be more than 4 or 5 feet, By 2 or 3 feet in size .. Doesn’t need 12 by 8 feet

  • Beth says:

    Back in 1966 or 67 my parents took us to see a parade downtown Eau Claire. We sat on the corner of Eau Claire St and Graham Ave with our bag of candy we’d purchased from the candy counter in the old Farmer’s store. The parade was merrily going by when here come the elephants, so big decked out in their colorful banners. And right there on the corner, right before our eyes, one of the large elephants just laid right down in the middle of the road. This of course stopped the parade and we stood there for the longest time watching the owners try to get the elephant up but to no avail. I believe the elephant died because at some point I remember my mother ushering us all away when it was evident the elepant wasn’t going to get up. Now as a small child this is a memory that sticks with you. I can’t say for sure what ever happened to this elephant, but I would think it would be cheaper to buried it local than to transport it home to bury.

  • Haileigh says:

    I am a fith grader at Flynn ele. And I was wongering is there a story about the horse that went on Plank Hill?
    If you can tell me then please email me back at haileighmartin@yahoo.com

    Thank you so much.

    • Mike Paulus says:

      Hi Haileigh!

      Can you be more specific? Not sure what you are referring to. I asked Frank Smoot from the Chippewa Valley museum if he knew anything about this, and he said:

      “I really don’t know. I’m sure there are horse stories: There was a lot of horse traffic on the hill; the roadbed was originally sand, but the sand “gave” so much that horses couldn’t climb it, which is why the city planked the hill. With 40 years of horse traffic, I bet there were accidents, horses-and-wagons tumbling off the side and such. I just don’t know any such stories myself. I know there was a circus grounds at the top, and a plane crash at the bottom.”

      Not sure if that helps …

      • Roy says:

        Plane crash was in 1938 ,when plane was taking map photos, The engine was stalling out. A man in the 2 story building (first 2 story on N side of road on bottom of hill) ,Was looking out to see where troubled plane was … the Airplane hit the building and the window the man was looking out of , Killing Him … Circus grounds were more near Margret Street,, Elephants were stationed near top of Plank Street hill when circus was not running , Because thats where the Fire Plug was and Elephants need lots of water to drink and bathe

  • Tracey says:

    I was doing some digging about the infamous elephant and found a little newspaper clipping posted online about the elephant’s demise. It’s from the New York Times! http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F00F16F7345C12738DDDA00A94DE405B818CF1D3

    “Lightning Kills Elephant: All the Animals in a Show at Eau Claire Shocked
    Eau Claire, Wis., June 28.–Lightning to-day struck the animal tent of a circus here killing the trick elephant and stunning the entire menagerie. Many persons were severely shocked.”

    New York Times, published June 29, 1901

  • Hilary says:

    I found that same article! Her name was Dolly:) I am putting in a garden this year, and though I will really just be scratching the surface of my yard, I am hoping for a find:) Seriously, this elephant is the number one reason I do not want to move from this house!

  • Chad says:

    Here is another newspaper article featuring the death.

    Lightning Strikes Elephant Herd in Eau Claire

    Lightning struck the animal tent of a circus here last night killing one elephant and injuring two others. The bolt struck the menagerie tent just before eight o’clock, when about fifty men and boys were in the tent. Five elephants, two ponies and two men were knocked over. Ella a trick elephant got up first, and then the fell dead and Parker, the trainer, says she died of fright.

    Janesville Gazette June 29, 1901

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