Notes on collections at the RIHS
In November we introduced you to a new blog series featuring our microfilm collection and the work of our Administrative Assistant (and occasional researcher) Ellary. In this newest post, Ellary finds an obituary and fills in the gaps of a story that was an integral part of her childhood.
Some childhood memories are universal, like going on family vacations, summer beach days, or lost hours spent on a local playground. However, hand-feeding a full grown elephant next to said playground may not be a universal experience, unless you grew up in Pawtucket. Fanny the Elephant was a fixture at Slater Park for over thirty years, from 1958 until 1993. She spent much of that time living in a very small pen completely open to the public inside the Slater Park Zoo within the park. You could feed her apples, pet her trunk, or left her ruffle through your hair while she gave you a good sniff. Although, at her largest size (an impressive five tons and seven feet tall) Fanny never felt threatening or imposing to me as vertically challenged child. She seemed more like a beloved stuffed animal come to life than a wild, giant of the animal kingdom. I know Fanny meant alot to other Rhode Islanders too, so I want to use our microfilm newspaper collection at the Robinson Research Center to find out more about Fanny’s life in and out of the Ocean State.
Fanny was an Indian elephant born somewhere in Asia, she was then purchased by Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in the 1950s and brought to live in the United States. The city of Pawtucket acquired Fanny in 1958 for $10,000 when she was approximately four years old. She lived in the now closed Slater Park Zoo. While the public access to Fanny was unusual and amazing, her living conditions were not ideal and warranted a petition from citizens and animal rights activists to improve her housing. The Slater Park Zoo was set to close by the City Council in 1993, meaning all of the animals including the neighborhood elephant, would need to move. In the end, The Humane Society and the City of Pawtucket raised the money to have Fanny relocated to a more suitable environment. On Saturday June 5, 1993, a day-long goodbye party was thrown for Fanny with over three thousand attendees featuring a schedule of special events held throughout the day. She had been well loved by many generations that visited her over the years and they wanted to send her off right.
Fanny was sent to live out the rest of her life with space to roam and no chains on her feet at an animal rescue ranch in Texas. She enjoyed a quiet and happy ten years there until her death on August 19, 2003 around the age of sixty. Her Rhode Island life was celebrated with an obituary in the Providence Journal on August 21, 2003. As someone who helps search through vital records and obituaries here at the Research Center, she is certainly the only animal I’ve come across to receive a front page send off.
Fanny made growing up in Pawtucket a little more magical for residents for several decades. Personally, Fanny helped inform my compassion and respect for animals as well as the environment…well her and a few too many viewings of Ferngully. So thanks Fanny.
~Ellary Wims Gamache, Administrative Assistant @RRC