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Edison and the Elephant...


Meet 'Topsy', the circus elephant executed for killing three men.
She was killed by electrocution at Luna Park, Coney Island on January 5th 1903.


The owners of Luna Park, Thompson and Dundy, had previously tried to kill Topsy with cyanide-laced carrots which she wolfed down without effect. They then planned to hang her, but protests by the ASPCA deemed it a 'cruel and unusual' punishment and they backed down. New York State had recently replaced the gallows with the modern electric chair, so electrocution was decided upon as the more humane method of execution.

Enter Thomas Edison. At this time he was engaged in his own free-for-all, battling George Westinghouse for control of America's electric infrastructure. Edison had declared that his direct current system was safe, but that Westinghouse's alternating current was a deadly menace. To prove it, Edison had been publicly electrocuting cats and dogs (aswell as the occasional calf, horse and orangutan) for years. It was Edison who convinced New York to use Westinghouse's 'deadly' AC for the electric chair, and it was Westinghouse's AC that Edison used to publicly execute Topsy.
A huge crowd gathered to witness the event. Using six thousand volts of electricity, she died twenty two seconds from the moment the electricity was turned on.

Edison also filmed the event, and you can now download this remarkable film...

Right-click the pic and 'save target as' to download (980KB).


Another Thomas Edison film worthy of note is 'The Electrocution of Czolgosz' (external link) - A detailed reproduction of the execution of the assassin of President McKinley faithfully carried out from the description of an eye witness.

Click the pic to meet the real Frankenstein...