Tracker Pixel for Entry

​Pachyderm Recovery Project revisited

Culture | November 19th, 2014

Search for Horace Mann circus elephant puts the legend under the microscope

An elephant is buried under Horace Mann Elementary school. At least, local legend tells us this.

It’s a story almost as old as Fargo itself: an elephant with a traveling circus died during a tour stop in town and was buried on the land where Horace Mann now stands.

The legend has persisted through the ages, through Horace Mann alumni, employees and neighborhood residents. Today, however, the story that has lost a lot of steam, reduced to a hokey little Fargo myth that many people toss aside.

But there are those who believe there’s something to this story, or at least a basis for it all. It’s why I teamed up with some of the savvy experts on the elephant legend earlier this year for one last big effort to research this story to a conclusion. And we’ve come a long way in nine months.

It was during last February, up to my elbows in dishwater at my old hotel job, that I decided to take a crack at the legend. It was winter. I was bored. I knew the story from my years in Fargo Public Schools, and it’s one that’s fairly well-known in Fargo.

I had to take a shot at researching; after all, I’ve been climbing my family tree since I was 11, and it was a nice change from trying to find dead ancestors to trying to prove a dead elephant.

Lo and behold, my primary research presented me with Dan Mahli of Fargo’s city planning department, and Steve Tollefson, former head of maintenance at Horace Mann.

Mahli’s own effort (the Pachyderm Recovery Project) in 2001 with anthropologist buddy James Wendt made a cover of the High Plains Reader that year, and Tollefson proved invaluable as the “curator” of the story during and after his years at Horace Mann. I had the perfect people to help out with the legend, which still went inconclusive even after their respectable research couldn’t confirm it.

Slowly but surely, we’ve chipped away at the elephant. Every circus to visit Fargo prior to Horace Mann’s construction in 1915 has been catalogued through old Fargo Forums, and it’s just a process of elimination of the ones that set up on Hector’s Addition, the land where the school sits.

Eighty circuses stopped in Fargo between 1878 and 1915, at least 10 of which camped on Hector’s Addition. We’ve even been able to put a date range on the elephant’s rumored death – between 1892, when Martin Hector purchased the land, and 1905, when sewerage construction on 11th Avenue forced circus setups to Ninth Street South.

It took a lot of mileage on the microfilm to construct that date range, but it’s been getting narrower with every visit to the Fargo Public Library’s microfilm collection. And of all the circuses to visit Hector’s Addition (and Fargo for that matter), nearly all had elephants, save for some dog and pony shows and one wildcat exhibit.

And while no dead elephants have turned up yet in the Fargo Forums of yesteryear, a camel is confirmed as being buried near Fargo North High, dying from disease during Barnum and Bailey’s visit in summer 1907.

In fact, there have been a few incidents with circuses in Fargo, from lions being born off of Main Avenue in 1904 to a trapeze girl dying from typhoid in 1905.

But no dead elephant or smoking gun yet. With about 30 circuses left to sift through in the old Forums, it’s a slow-going process, but one that has coughed up a few findings pertinent to the Fargo folklore.

Until every circus has been followed up on through the many miles of microfilm, there’s no conclusion yet to Horace Mann’s elephant legend.

But with the facts of history putting circuses with elephants on the schoolyard before Horace Mann was built, there very well could be an elephant in the ground, or at least something to the story.

YOU SHOULD KNOW

If you have any tips or knowledge on the legend of the Horace Mann circus elephant, email Jack Dura at jack@hpr1.com or call Steve Tollefson at 701-235-3880. 

Recently in:

By Laura Simmonslaurasimmons2025@u.northwestern.eduSummit Carbon Solutions approached North Dakota land owner Kurt Swensonin August 2021, requesting to lease out Swenson’s land to sequester, or store, carbon dioxide underground…

By Sabrina Hornungsabrina@hpr1.comExhibit recreates and examines the iconic bar’s legacyThere’s something to be said about a good bar. The really good ones serve as a sort of community living room, bringing folks from all walks…

Saturday, December 10, doors 8pm, show at 9pmThe Aquarium, FargoHeavy fuzz rock straight outta Fargo with Hevvy Swetter and Prediction of the Witch.“Closely related to stoner rock, it tends to focus upon downtuned, heavy guitar.…

By HPR Staffsubmit@hpr1.comOur opinion: How can it be 17 years?It’s hard to believe that Ralph’s has been gone for 17 years. I was lucky enough to experience the tail end of its legacy, though technically I wasn’t old enough…

By Ed Raymondfargogadly@gmail.com A Critical Fact: To Fully Understand a Country, One Must Know Its HistoryWe have state legislatures attempting to prevent pre-schools through universities from teaching the real history of our…

Well shiver me timbers. After weeks of sampling some of the finest drinks in F-M from more bars than we could shake a belaying pin at, the results of High Plains Reader’s 6th Annual Cocktail Showdown are in! For nine weeks,…

By Rick Gionrickgion@gmail.comAs someone who’s written a lot of feature stories and press releases, it’s tempting to write something cheesy as a lead for this month’s column. But, instead, this column will actually feature…

By Martin Beckmanbeckmanniscool@gmail.comSpec is a new hardcore band from the Fargo area featuring Josh on guitar, Ethan on vocals, Austin on guitar, Landon on bass and Robby– drummyboy. Spec has been creating waves with their…

By Greg Carlsongregcarlson1@gmail.com“Citizenfour” Oscar-winner Laura Poitras profiles photographer and activist Nan Goldin in “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed.” Like its talented subject, the movie cannot be confined to a…

By Sabrina Hornungsabrina@hpr1.comIf you’ve ever driven down the Enchanted Highway, the 32-mile ribbon of road connecting Regent to Gladstone in western North Dakota, home to the world’s largest salvaged metal sculptures,…

By Jessica M. Hawkesjmhawkes84@gmail.comIt wasn’t long after the founding of the railroad and river town of New Rockford that entertainment venues started to put down their own roots. Its population bolstered by booms of nearby…

By Sabrina Hornungsabrina@hpr1.comCharlie Berens is a man of many hats. The creator of the “Manitowoc Minute” is a newsman, comedian, writer and musician. We had the opportunity to speak with the Wisconsin native about his new…

By Kris Gruberperriex1@gmail.comSpring is here (mostly), and our area is buzzing with people eager to get back out and about -- many newly vaccinated and feeling a bit safer. Partnering with Jade Events, Fargo Brewing is just…

By John Showalter  john.d.showalter@gmail.comThey sell fentanyl test strips and kits to harm-reduction organizations and…

By Sabrina Hornungsabrina@hpr1.comPhoto by: Michelle Tait, Memory Makers Old Time PhotographyIn August URL Radio personality Stacy Sturm knew she wanted to do something for Halloween. She tossed around the thought of a Halloween…

By Waylon Hedegaardretiringwithcats@gmail.comFor all those who still decry my departure from the Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christian faith, understand that I will never return. I see the examples you set and want no part of…