33 user 2 critic

Electrocuting an Elephant (1903)

The execution of Topsy, a female elephant, in a publicity stunt advertising the opening of Luna Park on Coney Island. Topsy was originally owned by Forepaugh Circus where she killed a ... See full summary »



Comic-Con 2017: All Aboard the IMDboat


July 20 to 23, 2017

Get entertainment news, trailer drops, and photos with IMDb's coverage of 2017 San Diego Comic-Con featuring host and IMDboat captain Kevin Smith, including Saturday's live event.

Browse Our Guide to Comic-Con


Add Image Add an image

Do you have any images for this title?

Learn more

People who liked this also liked... 

Frankenstein (1910)
Short | Horror | Sci-Fi
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  

Frankenstein, a young medical student, trying to create the perfect human being, instead creates a misshapen monster. Made ill by what he has done, Frankenstein is comforted by his fiancée ... See full summary »

Director: J. Searle Dawley
Stars: Mary Fuller, Charles Ogle, Augustus Phillips
Comedy | Short
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  

A man, objecting to being filmed, comes closer and closer to the camera lens until his mouth is all we see. Then he opens wide and swallows camera and cinematographer. He steps back, chews, and grins.

Director: James Williamson
Stars: Sam Dalton
Documentary | Short
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.2/10 X  

A black and white short in which a moving rear facing camera documents people running towards it on the street.

Director: Gabriel Veyre
Documentary | Short
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  

A shot of people walking on The Leeds Bridge.

Director: Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince
Documentary | Short
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  

A train is leaving a railway station at the outskirts of Jerusalem. From the very end of the train a barren, rocky landscape is seen, and some ruins of very old buildings,. Five men walk ... See full summary »

Directors: Auguste Lumière, Alexandre Promio
Documentary | Short
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  

Annabelle (Whitford) Moore performs one of her popular dance routines. She uses her dance steps and her long, flowing skirts to create a variety of visual patterns.

Directors: William K.L. Dickson, William Heise
Stars: Annabelle Moore
Comedy | Short
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

A gardener is watering his flowers, when a mischievous boy sneaks up behind his back, and puts a foot on the water hose. The gardener is surprised, and looks into the nozzle to find out why... See full summary »

Director: Louis Lumière
Stars: François Clerc, Benoît Duval
Short | Action | Western
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

A group of bandits stage a brazen train hold-up, only to find a determined posse hot on their heels.

Director: Edwin S. Porter
Stars: Gilbert M. 'Broncho Billy' Anderson, A.C. Abadie, George Barnes
The Kiss (1896)
Short | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.9/10 X  

Two people kiss.

Director: William Heise
Stars: May Irwin, John C. Rice
Comedy | Short
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.8/10 X  

A woman being fitted for shoes exposes her ankle to the shoe clerk, who is intrigued. He kisses her, but her chaperone hits him with her umbrella.

Director: Edwin S. Porter
Stars: Edward Boulden
Documentary | Short
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.6/10 X  

A man (Thomas Edison's assistant) takes a pinch of snuff and sneezes. This is one of the earliest Thomas Edison films and was the first motion picture to be copyrighted in the United States.

Director: William K.L. Dickson
Stars: Fred Ott
Short | Comedy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  

This is altogether a remarkable picture and of very fine photographic value. It shows a picturesque country road, down which comes a two-seated automobile carrying four people. As the ... See full summary »

Director: Cecil M. Hepworth
Stars: Cecil M. Hepworth, Henry Lawley


Credited cast:
Topsy ...


The execution of Topsy, a female elephant, in a publicity stunt advertising the opening of Luna Park on Coney Island. Topsy was originally owned by Forepaugh Circus where she killed a drunken spectator who burned the tip of her trunk with a cigar. She was sold to Sea Lion Park in 1902 which was then sold to new owners who turned it into Luna Park. After they decided they could no longer handle her, the owners of Luna Park announced they would hang Topsy, leading to an outcry by the ASPCA. The owners then decided they would electrocute the elephant, with a backup plan of feeding her cyanide-laced carrots and strangling her with a cable. Written by Rob O

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Documentary | Short

Parents Guide:




Release Date:

12 January 1903 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Electrocution of an Elephant  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


On July 20, 2003, a memorial for Topsy was erected at the Coney Island Museum. See more »


Edited into The 20th Century: A Moving Visual History (1999) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.

User Reviews

like Bambi vs Godzilla if was crossed with the holocaust
1 May 2016 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Now here is some bad storytelling. This is one minute long - sure it's 1903, literally, but still - and we get barely any head up, just two shots: one of an elephant, bound with some wraps, coming up to the camera, and then the next shot the elephant gets electrocuted and falls over to his/her side. Dead. Who committed to this? Why did no one step in, like the police or possibly (if it existed) 1903's version of PETA? And what was Thomas Edison doing there filming it, for posterity? Why didn't he come with a script prepared and some stakes? Where's the three act structure here? Even for a documentary this is poor work.

OK, so that's no very funny, I know. I think it's all I can do to try and mask the fact that I just watched an elephant get electrocuted. It's a purposeless act, but I haven't read the history on it so perhaps there was some context that was there. Maybe the elephant was old or sick and it came from the circus and it was time to set the elephant out to pasture? No, it looks relatively healthy, and as it stands there in poise before the electroshocks happen it seems content enough.

Seriously, I have no idea if it was Edison's notion to shock the elephant, and I'd assume it wasn't (I looked it up and it wasn't his exactly, the elephant would've been killed anyway for killing a couple of people). But the fact is he documented it not for himself but for others to view, and it comes down to one of two things: anthropological purposes (that we see this horrible act for future generations to see and to be horrified by so that we further appreciate the life around us) or, most likely, to gain some public blood-thirst (or again to publicize his electricity, which sounds and is about right). These were the primitive days of cinema, when movies played very quickly, probably at some of the same circuses (or at least in that carnival atmosphere, and to audiences who's attention was brief before going on to this or that.

How did people react then? I'd be curious to see if they were mortified or found it somehow, some way, entertaining. I'd sincerely hope not the latter, and it suddenly occurs to be the irony that it was because of Edison creating electricity that this could be a possibility to start with. It IS a part of history and in the context it was set in I know I should give it a pass. But in the 21st century, after so many decades where elephants have been decimated and Dumbo has become the example of elephants in cinema, it's really shocking (no pun intended).

I don't know if this should even get a rating, but it does here.

0 of 0 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

Contribute to This Page