I’m researching the life of Forepaugh’s Bolivar, a huge Asian elephant who arrived in America in the 1870s and who was billed as ‘the largest elephant in the world’. He was given to the Philly Zoo on Christmas Day 1888 and died in 1908.

After an extensive year of research I’m now coming to the end and I am specifically looking for any photographs of Bolivar at the circus or in parades.  I have old drawings of him during his time at the circus and museum, but only 1 grainy photo of him at the zoo (an image taken of his left side in his enclosure, with his trunk raised and his back leg straining at his chains). Theres no image on him in the online Philly zoo guidebooks from the time, and searches on Philly history websites also came up empty. Unfortunately for the few photos I have of him from the newspapers they’re quite poor quality and I cannot get anyone from the newspaper to reply with a better quality shot or permission to use even the grainy images.

If anyone can point me in the right direction for a resource on old circus photographs this would be so helpful!

I’m looking forward to sharing his story and championing the world of circus through my research.


Warmest wishes


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Hello Bonnie,

You will find several references to Bolivar, including photos, on Buckles blog, the online chronicle of circus history curated by retired elephant trainer William Woodcock.  Once you have opened the site, use the search function to find “Bolivar”.


Don Covington


Circus Historical Society


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