Topsy: The Startling Story of the Crooked Tailed Elephant, P.T. Barnum, and the American Wizard, Thomas Edison

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Topsy the elephant was innocent!

In a tale that interweaves the electrocution of a gentle giant with the electrification of America and the rise of the big top circus, Topsy by Michael Daly reports that the elephant of the title was not the serial man-killer portrayed by those seeking to justify her wrongful execution. The book also discredits the myth that her electrocution at Luna Park in Coney Island in 1903 was part of Thomas Edison's fight for supremacy over George Westinghouse in the War of Currents. The Great Wizard had already lost that epic battle.

Topsy details the ill-fated elephant's death and a life blighted by struggles between historic giants of the human herd. The book recounts how Topsy was smuggled into America as a baby during the raucous competition between the irrepressible P.T. Barnum and the ruthless Adam Forepaugh for circus supremacy and how she met her end after the bitter fight between a desperate Edison and a resolute Westinghouse.

The electrocution was for Edison a means to vent his fury and frustration over his defeat, as well as an opportunity to film the first death of any kind. Electrocuting an Elephant is on YouTube and present day viewers can note her docility to the very end.

Topsy had in truth killed just once and only after decades of torment that culminated with a circus follower throwing a lit cigar in her mouth. Her subsequent owners found her to be not so much a danger as an inconvenience.

The human heroes of Topsy are two enlightened trainers who proved that kindness achieves more than cruelty. The book's other figures from circus history include a refreshments vendor who was caught short of water during a rush and grabbed a tub where a rider was soaking a pair of pink tights. The result was the first pink lemonade.

TOPSY by Michael Daly
Published by Atlantic Monthly. Available July 2, 2013
P.T. Barnum, the one and only. The Wizard in his laboratory. Bill Snyder, trainer and hater of the ill-fated Sid, with Hattie at the elephant quarters in Central Park. Topsy's Final moment, the smoke rising from the electrodes attached to her feet.

What people are saying:

"Step right up, folks, and read all about it! The amazing tale of elephants, electricity, Edison and Barnum, stunts, fights and ghastly events. TOPSY is a 19th century reality show that boggles the mind as the pages fly by with events that have you laughing out loud one moment and gasping in disbelief the next." - Tom Brokaw "Michael Daly vividly revives a rollicking pachydermal tale that riveted New Yorkers a century ago...Mr. Daly leads readers on mesmerizing detours that reveal everything from the origins of pink lemonade to a brazen pickpocket's trick...It is, as Mr. Daly says of the circus itself, a summery escape 'from grinding drudgery into the fabulous.'" - The New York Timesview full review here "A fascinating and moving piece of American history and a meditation on the cost of entertainment and human progress." - Kirkus Reviewview full review here "Daly's fascinating, nuanced portraits of the seedy sides of the circus's heyday and the dawn of the electric age makes for incredibly entertaining reading." - Publishers Weeklyview full review here