The year was 1906. The place, Northern Virginia. If you were standing outside on August 21, you might have seen four enormous grey animals with extremely long noses gallop past, destroying buildings and crops between Arlington and Fairfax County. This might also have been your first sighting of an elephant on the loose.
“Barlow’s Elephants” was an animal act featured at the Luna Park amusement park, in Arlington. The four elephants, Annie, Jennie, Queenie, and Tommie, were part of a very popular traveling show that arrived at Luna Park on August 20, 1906.
Postcard of Shoot the Shutes water amusement at Luna Park. Hand written text might read: "Hello yourself. Am cooking alive. Burning love to all"
The next day, the four elephants escaped from their quarters. Deciding to take matters in their own trunks, they began a tour the local area. Annie was corralled quickly before she could make a full escape, but Jennie, Queenie, and Tommie remained at large for more than a week.
Peter Barlow, head trainer of “Barlow’s Elephants,” could not catch up with the elephant herd after capturing Annie. So he posted a reward of $500 for the capture of any of the runaways. This inspired the Washington Post to write a short poem in their honor:
“Four little elephants, chained in a row,
They break loose and away they go;
Keepers call it serious “Biz,”
And pachyderm price has surely “Riz.”
A few locals attempted to round up the elephants on their own, but were unsuccessful.
Barlow and his crew eventually captured Tommie in Fairfax County, and after eight days, and with help, all four elephants were finally rounded up. The elephants were then loaded on a freight train at Burke Station, and returned safely to Coney Island.
Although we unfortunately have no photographs of Annie, Jennie, Queenie or Tommie, we do have images of Luna Park (seen above).
Arlington's Luna Park opened in the summer of 1906 to much fanfare and served as a fun escape for local adults and children for almost a decade. The park stretched along Four Mile Run on South Glebe Road and South Eads Street, covering nearly forty acres (the County’s water pollution plant now occupies this land). Although most of this land was devoted to picnic and playground areas, ten-acres were dedicated to amusement rides, a dance hall, a roller rink, a movie theater, and of course, a space for elephant and other circus animal acts.
To see more items relating to the elephant hunt, visit the Center for Local History on the first floor of the Central Library.
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