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Saturday, January 16, 2016

From time to time, I find myself researching some of the old newspaper articles from the late 1800’s, and what I find to be most interesting is the style in which the stories were told.  They used such vivid imagery and the dialogue had such a pleasing flair to it all that I cannot help but pass some of them on to you.

One such article, found in the Lockport Daily Journal on Saturday evening, March 11th, 1882, will quite eloquently display my point.  It was offered from a gentleman referred to as the “Journal’s Man about Town” and it was also his own recollection of an event that happened many years before, in 1846…

His story goes like this:
An Exciting Day in Lockport – The Elephant Moves Around –
A Little Joke Causes Big Trouble – Thrilling Exploits of an
Enraged Pachyderm and its Subjugation.
     The recent birth of a baby elephant and the attendant
comments of the public press upon the peculiarities of these
mammoths, have been read with avidity by all classes of readers
with both pleasure and profit.  In this connection an incident caused
by an immense elephant with a bad temper occurred in this city – or
rather village at the time it took place – one Saturday about the year
1846, created as much excitement as any event that ever transpired
here, the details of which will well repay perusal.
     The Affair was brought about by a practical joke played upon
the animal, the particulars being substantially as follows:
     A celebrated menagerie or caravan as they were called at that
day, probably Van Amburgh’s, had pitched their tent on the land just
back of the Court House, where the residence of the late George
McComb is situated and which was an extensive commons before
Ontario Street was cut through.
This Court House that he speaks of no longer exists.  In 1886, a new Niagara County Courthouse was built at 175 Hawley Street.  It was constructed in three stages, designed with a nine-bay by four-bay rectangle highlighted by a projecting multi-stage entrance tower that was crowned by a statue of Justice.

In 1915, a substantial addition was constructed on the south side, doubling its size, and then again by 1917, a monumental entrance pavilion was built on the Western side.

Although the size and scale of the new, and present, Courthouse dwarfed what was standing in 1846, the overall exterior of the 1886-1917 building had replicated the design and materials of the original building that was on Niagara Street, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.
Among the varied and wonderful attractions offered for the
delectation of the public was A PACHYDERM OF THE LARGEST KIND,
which in those times was esteemed not only a novelty from the fact of
its being a very rare animal for these latitudes but it afforded the
student of natural history food for reflection for many a day after
viewing its mastadonian proportions.  Among the visitors to the
entertainment was a young man named Lucius Pershell, who after
gazing at all the wonders of the earth as described on the bills,
finally brought up in front of HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS, the elephant.
Lucius gazed upon it and being impressed with the magnitude of the
animal before him concluded to make it a present OF AN APPLE, in
the interior of which was a good-sized pinch of fine-cut tobacco.  The
fruit changed owners quickly, but the huge beast had barely got the
apple into its capacious mouth, and tasted the “weed,” when it
became infuriated.  In an instant it snapped the chains with which it
was fastened.
The people took the alarm and rushed pell mell from the arena.
His bruitship strode majestically toward the canvas, ripped it open
and sallied forth.
     The FIRST OBSTACLE in his path was a team of horses attached
to a wagon, which were hitched to a fence.  The wagon was dashed
into kindling wood quicker than thought, one horse was so terribly
mangled that it died almost instantly, while the other had to be
killed some little while afterwards.  The elephant kept right on until
he got to where Prospect Street is now located, which at that time
was only a lane.  On the west side was a rail fence belonging to the
Phelps farm.  The animal tossed the rails about like so many pipe
1851 map of the Village of Lockport (CONTRIBUTED)

He still continued his triumphant march.  Getting into the
Phelps orchard, he caught the trees with his trunk, gave them one
shake and the fruit rattled to the ground.  The people had become
perfectly demoralized and while the beast went toward the west they
started helter skelter in the contrary direction.  Men yelled, women
screamed and children squalled.  It appeared as though
pandemonium had changed locations.  Apple stalls, peanut stands,
lemonade counters and refreshment booths were met, overcome,
crushed and leveled TOTHE GROUND by the bewildered, demoralized
and terribly scared mob.  Farmers with horses and wagons plunged
in every direction to escape from the infuriated monster, which
everybody supposed was at their own particular heels.  None gazed
Forward was the cry, and forward it was.  Niagara Street
became one seething mass of struggling humanity, horses and
wagons, men, women and children being conglomerated into one
heterogeneous gathering.  Fighting, struggling, swearing and
tugging were the order of the procession.
IF ONE FELL DOWN it was only by almost superhuman efforts
that they regained a foothold and held their own.  With the swaving
and rapidly flying multitude consternation was depicted upon every
countenance, and it was only after each individual had gained a
place of supposed safety that the turmoil was allayed.  Meanwhile
the circus people had not been idle.  Messengers had been dispatched
for the keeper, who was sick abed at the Eagle Hotel.
The Eagle Hotel opened its doors in 1823 and was located at the corner of Niagara and Prospect Streets.  The Washington House also opened at approximately the same time, and would be the future site of the reception held for General Lafayette when he visited Lockport.

He was got up, put into a wagon and quickly driven to where
the brute was.  He seized a pitchfork, and when he got within four or
five rods of the animal, HE CALLED HIM BY NAME.
     The elephant turned when he heard the voice and made a rush
for the keeper.  Those who were brave enough to be in the vicinity
thought the keeper’s time had surely come, but he stood still and
awaited the onslaught, and when the animal got near enough, he
jabbed the instrument into him and continued to do so until the
brute got down on its knees.  He was then led into the tent, but his
trumpeting was perfectly terrible.  He was soon taken thence and
chained to an apple tree in Phelps orchard in such a manner that it
was impossible for him to move without hurting himself.  That night
when the tent was taken down they made the beast pull up the
stakes and do other work until he became perfectly subjected.
  The next day being Sunday, he was taken to the edge tool shop
of Riley Buttrick, which was in rear of where W. K. Moore’s mill is
located on Pine Street, and Mr. Buttrick forged the fastenings anew
which the animal had broken in his passion.
Buttrick’s tool shop was located just below Moore’s Mill, which is presently Old City Hall, strategically placed to service any of the metal needs for the ever-growing traffic along the Erie Canal.  In this case, the job at hand was for a completely different need.  To the craftsmen of the mid 1800’s, no job was too big, and metal was forged and shaped to fit the enormous leg of a baby elephant, undeniably provoked, but quickly to be placed in time-out.

The excitement was fearful while it lasted, and it was a number
of years afterwards that our good people visited a menagerie
wherein an elephant was exhibited without fear and trembling.
Many are the hairbreadth escapes which are narrated of the affair
by those who were present, but we have no room for these.  We
merely give the facts as they occurred.
-- Colorfully submitted by the “Journal’s Man about Town.”

It is pretty amazing to think that Lockport has changed so much since these simple times.  I am not sure if we are more fortunate to be living in the world of today, but they certainly knew how to enjoy their days, and many of you would agree that there has not been this much excitement in Lockport since the infamous CANAL CANOE RACES!

As a Thank You to the people who maintain our history at the offices on Niagara Street, please take the time to visit and experience the artifacts from days gone by, and enjoy all that they have to offer.  In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “We are not makers of history.  We are made by history.”

+Dr. Scott Geise of Newfane has an active interest in Lockport and Erie Canal history, including the areas surrounding the local Mill Race.  His column, “Historically Relevant,” appears on the first and third Saturday of each month.

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