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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 »

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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

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Documentary | Short

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12 January 1903 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Electrocution of an Elephant  »

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1.33 : 1
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This may have been the first death ever captured on film. See more »

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Referenced in Archer: Motherless Child (2016) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Despicable
16 February 2006 | by See all my reviews

This vicious little film is horrendous. My low rating for it comes for two main reasons. The first is that it is an animal snuff film and I find that whole concept so vile it turns my stomach. Filmed over a hundred years ago, I can only hope that we've evolved into something a little more humane and compassionate. This film is complete and utter exploitation, made to cash in on the sensational aspects of the film and the subject. Historical interest aside, this is something to watch only if one finds themselves in the grip of morbid fascination.

Reason number two? Look at the way that the camera is set up. It is placed in the best possible location to fully capture the full effect: long march forward of the elephant, perfect view of the electrocution platform and a cold and clinically dispassionate viewpoint of the elephant with smoke coming out of it before it finally collapses. Sickening.

Thomas Edison did many great things for civilization and his talents and intelligence aren't in doubt. Nobody is perfect, but when you realize that this film provided A) an opportunity for him to trump early cinematic competitors with a sensationalist film of an elephant being electrocuted and B) he filmed the execution to demonstrate the greater effectiveness of DC as opposed to AC, you can't help but wonder if the scientist in him was a little TOO dispassionate and cold. Any number of Peter Cushing's mad scientists would be proud. The rest of us should be ashamed and revolted.


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