On September 11, 1916 an inexperienced hotel worker named Red Eldridge was hired as an assistant elephant trainer by the Sparks World Famous Shows
circus. The following night, he was killed by Mary - a five ton Asian elephant - while taking her to a pond to splash and drink. No one knows what exactly happened, but its widely accepted that he prodded Mary behind her ear with a hook after she reached down to nibble on a watermelon rind. She went into a rage, snatched Eldridge with her trunk and threw him against a stand and stepped on his head, crushing it.
The details of the aftermath are confused in a maze of sensationalist newspaper stories and folklore. Most accounts indicate that she calmed down afterward and didn't charge the onlookers, who began chanting, "Kill the elephant!" Apparently within minutes, a local blacksmith tried to kill Mary, firing more than two dozen rounds with little effect... Meanwhile, the leaders of several nearby towns threatened not to allow the circus to visit if Mary was included. The circus owner, Charlie Sparks, reluctantly decided that the only way to quickly resolve the potentially ruinous situation was to kill the elephant in public. On the following day, a foggy and rainy September 13, 1916, she was transported by rail to Erwin, Tennessee where a crowd of over 2,500 people (including most of the town's children) assembled in the Clinchfield railroad yard.
The elephant was hanged by the neck from a railcar-mounted industrial crane. The first attempt resulted in a snapped chain, causing Mary to fall and break her hip as dozens of children fled in terror. The severely wounded elephant died during a second attempt and was buried beside the tracks. Although the authenticity of a widely distributed (and heavily retouched) photo of her death was disputed years later by Argosy magazine, other photographs taken during the incident confirm its provenance. Mary is the only known elephant in history to be hanged.