In Somers, Elephants Honor Old Bet

Credits: Somers Historical Society
Credits: Somers Historical Society

The following is the first entry in a series that will run over the next few months submitted by the Somers Historical Society depicting Somers in the 19th century.

Old Bet the elephant was brought to Somers by Hachaliah Bailey around 1806 and created much interest because no one had ever seen an elephant. Bailey took the elephant on tour, charging for a view. However, on July 24, 1816, Old Bet was shot to death by an irate farmer in Alfred, Maine. In 1827, Bailey erected a statue of Old Bet in front of the Elephant Hotel, where it stands to this day.

In 1922, elephant Old John, who represented his herd, walked 53 miles from New York City to Somers to lay a wreath at the statue of Old Bet for her anniversary. Old John was the dean of elephants for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

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Old John arrived in Somers on April 17, 1922, 62 years after the death of Old Bet. A circus agent, Dexter Fellows, was with him. Apparently Old John was infatuated with Fellows, as he would squeal with joy whenever he appeared.

Old John placed a wreath at the Old Bet monument with the inscription, “To Old Bet from Old John and the Ringling Brother’s Elephant Herd.” As reported in the Yonkers Argus, following the placement of the wreath, the 600 children present sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and Old John proceeded to bend down on his knees. The New York Times reported that although Somers had only 300 residents, more than 2,000 people stood along the line of march to see Old John.

So, for more than 190 years, a wooden elephant named Old Bet (Betsy) has stood proud on her 15-foot shaft of dressed granite. She is the beloved symbol of the town of Somers and many of its organizations.

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