The Eastside Hill Elephant: Fact or Fiction?
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.