After six weeks roaming the hills around Cranbrook in 1926, little circus elephant Charlie Ed has finally been caught and walked back into town on September 14, just in the nick of time before the first snow.
He’s one of three elephants that got loose from the Sells-Floto Circus in August 1926. Tillie was captured nine days later; Myrtle died of pneumonia following a month in the bush.
But little Charlie Ed is the happy ending Cranbrook was holding its breath for. And the growing city puts all its pent-up nervousness into celebrating his safe return.
On September 19, Charlie Ed will board a train with a $1,200 ticket to California, where he will meet up with the rest of the travelling circus.
First, he gets a proper Cranbrook send-off. That Sunday morning, Charlie Ed is led through town to meet Cranbrook’s Mayor T.M. Roberts outside the Royal Bank.
In honour of his six-week ordeal in the wild, Charlie Ed was to be given a new name – Cranbrook Ed – though it’s clear only Cranbrook knows him by this name.
To christen the elephant, Mayor Roberts pours a bottle of champagne over Charlie Ed’s head. The elephant takes it gracefully. Perhaps a little foolishly, the mayor then chooses this moment to present a bouquet of flowers to the lovely Marie Patterson, who has just won the Cranbrook Gyro Club auto contest.
“The newly christened, apparently thinking that he could show His Worship how such presentations should be made, grabbed the flowers and making a pass with them to his mouth, as if to eat them, then waved the bouquet on high, much to the surprise and delight of those present, then he dropped them at the feet of the honoured young lady,” wrote the Herald on September 23.
Then Charlie Ed is treated to a tray of delicacies at the Victoria Cafe, before being packed off, trunk and all, on the noon train.
While the story ends there for Cranbrook, it’s not the end of the trouble for the elephants of the Sells-Floto. In fact, like Myrtle, Charlie Ed, Tillie and even little Mary, who started the trouble, met with tragic ends at the hands of humans.
Two years later, the Sells-Floto is in Lewiston, Idaho during a heat wave. Desperately thirsty, Mary takes off. Confused by the shimmering reflection of the glass, Mary smashes shop windows as she runs through town. She finally stops at a garage where people had just been washing cars. She drinks and her handlers arrive and manage to calm her down. Unfortunately, Lewisham’s mayor Dr. Braddock, an avid big game hunter, has run for his gun. Without evaluating the scene in the garage, he shoots Mary dead.
As for Tillie, she leads a long life (for a captive elephant), passing from Sells-Floto to Ringling Brothers. But she dies in 1941 in Atlanta, Georgia, one of seven elephants poisoned with arsenic. No culprit is ever identified.
And what of Cranbrook’s beloved Charlie Ed? Well, he is retired from the circus in 1934 when he is cast in the film “Clive Of India”, alongside Loretta Young. After his second brush with fame, Charlie Ed is retired to the San Francisco Zoo. Tragically, in 1936, he gores his keeper to death. Charlie Ed is killed by a firing squad, stiff ropes pulling his four legs apart. He is 27 years old.