Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Electrocuting An Elephant (1903)

Eight Haikus Honouring Topsy the Elephant


fall succeeds summer

new elephants are growing

fast; no room for more


execution day

Killer Elephant Meets Death

media on-hand


grey, damp, morning murk

the beast in its harness sweats

before the current.


buzzing, clouds of smoke

the pachyderm teeters, then

rolls on its old back.


fairground lumber piled

her docile corpse fidgets, her

limbs splayed like lumber


quiet labourmen

three trampled trainers avenged!

camera’s passive whirr.


lights flick against sky

Topsy’s turbulence is done

men she killed stay dead


Luna Park is nigh

Coney Island spectacles

no longer lethal

Where to find Electrocuting An Elephant:
Electrocuting An Elephant is among the many brief, 19th and early-20th century films found on Disc One of Kino International’s four-disc set, Edison: The Invention of the Movies. The film is about 90 seconds long.

Poor Topsy even has her own Wikipedia entry.


  1. Topsy breaks my heart every time I read about her. Poor creature.

    I like the use of haiku here. Brief pointed barbs.

  2. Lovely haikus!

    The reason for this film was the "War of the Currents," in which Edison and his allies sought to show the dangers of alternating current (at that time patented by the Westinghouse company) and Edison's own schemes for direct current. Edison's supporters ran barnstorming tours in which they electrocuted cats, dogs, and other animals, and Edison gave his tacit backing for the use of the electric chair for execution -- all using that "dangerous" alternating current. Of course, at comparable voltages and amperages, AC is not significantly more harmful than DC current - but this fact was lost in the battle for establishing transmission lines and systems. This short is the Edison film company's gruesome contribution to this anti-AC propaganda.

  3. Thanks guys.

    This is a bit of an oddity on the Edison box-set, since it's not given a formal academic introduction. I don't know why, since there are several backstories to it (including the situation Russell relates here). Other bizarre and potentially controversial films on that set (the racist ones, for example) are given thorough intros.

    I enjoyed writing the haikus, actually... never tried them before.

  4. the backstory actually makes it worse...

    Po' topsy!

    But hey... "three trampled trainers avenged!" ;-)