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I’m searching for information about a circus that performed at Hopeville, Iowa in the early 1900’s. I’ve been told it may have been the Cole Brothers Circus, but am not sure. They had an elephant die when they were there once and it is buried there. I’m particularly interested in the lion tamer. If anyone can help me it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Janet Marshall

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This is an article from the Leon Journal-Reporter published about 7 years ago. I thought this might give you a clue even if I couldn’t find the answer to your question. Please let me know if you found them helpful. Candy Brown, Van Meter, Iowa, former resident of Hopeville, Iowa, CABBOB70@aol.com.

“Elephat Safari Begins in Decatur County. About one year ago Don Young, a Decatur County history buff, learned of the burial of an elephant near Decatur, Iowa, back in the early 1900s. He began digging into the files at the Decatur County Museum aided by . . . the historical society. . . . found an article with a snapshot and gave it to Don. He investigated further and found that [a person of Decatur] had a bone from the elephant that his father had found. . . . set out to find the burial spot. . . . Over the years until the bone was found, dogs and coyotes had dug up the shallow grave. The following is a story told to a reporter many years later and was printed. Some of the names may be wrong, but those involved are no longer living. The 1915 death of an elephant may be no ‘big’ thing, but when it is in Decatur County then we have another first. According to the story, a circus was heading for Davis City following a performance at Van Wert, when an elephant managed to break open a wagon loaded with freshly threshed oats. Needles to say the pachyderm gourged himself, and as it were, it caused him to ‘founder’. Gradually losing his strength the beast finally gave out at the Clarence Millsap farm about 1 1/2 miles south of Decatur on the road to Davis City. With a few tons of carcass on their hands circus officials quickly negotiated to bury the animal near the Millsap home. Because of the enormous size, it was agreed that it should be dismembered so that it would fit in a smaller hold. (Just try burying an elephant sometime!) With their work completed, and with two tusks for their trouble, the circus moved on – and one elephant found its way into a page of Decatur County history. To add a bit of humor to the story, Gerald ‘Graves’ of Leon said that years later he and Carl ‘Coffin’ went to the site and exhumed one of the legs of the poor fellow and made cribbage boards. . . .”

[Note: sent as graphic, transcribed, some non-essential details and photos omitted, J. Griffin, webmaster]

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With sketchy information, the best place to start the search would be with a scan of the local newspapers for the time period in question. That will reveal the identity of the circuses that played the community, which in turn would lead to developing further information. Something as unusual as the death and burial of an elephant would have been covered in the local news. If their is no community newspaper, then the paper from the county seat should be checked. If the name of the elephant is known, that could serve as a search initiation point. Fred Dahlinger, Jr., Director of Historic Resources and Facilities, Circus World Museum.

The Cole Bros. title usage commenced in 1906. I checked the routes for Cole titles 1906-1909, 1912 and 1913, all complete, and did not find a Hopeville entry. There were some scattered Iowa dates in a few years. All of these shows were railroad outfits. If Hopeville was on the railroad, it could have been a rail show or an overland circus that played the engagement. If there was no local railroad, it would have been an overland circus, a smaller proposition.

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