John L. Sullivan (elephant)

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Old John laying a wreath at the monument to Old Bet in Somers, New York

John L. Sullivan, (circa 1860 - April 1932), was a tuskless male Asian elephant that performed in the Adam Forepaugh circus and, later, in the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus.


In the early days of its career, John L. (who was named after the boxer John L. Sullivan) performed a boxing act with his trainer, Eph Thompson.[1][2] John would have a boxing glove placed at the end of his trunk to spar with Thompson. John stayed with the circus as the Forepaugh show joined with the Sells Brothers Circus, which then joined with the Ringling Brothers Circus.

Old John, as he came to be known, stayed on with the circus after he retired from performing. He babysat for the performers' children, did heavy lifting, and led the elephant herd to and from the show grounds and train.[3]

On 9 April 1922, John, with Dexter Fellows, began a 53 mile pilgrimage from Madison Square Garden to the Elephant Hotel in Somers, New York, to pay tribute to Old Bet, the first elephant in America. John arrived on 13 April 1922. He laid a wreath on the monument to Old Bet.[2][4]

He died of old age or of heart failure in Sarasota, Florida in 1932.[1][5]


  1. ^ a b Bosworth, William George. Wagon Wheels. London: Heath, Cranton, Ltd., 1935. p. 193. Quoted in Yoram S. Carmeli, "Text, Traces, and the Reification of Totality: The Case of Popular Circus Literature," New Literary History, Vol. 25, No. 1, Literary History and Other Histories. (Winter, 1994), pp. 182-183.
  2. ^ a b "Namesake of 'John L.' Will Lay Wreath on Grave of Pioneer Sister Performer". New York Times. April 9, 1922. Retrieved 2010-01-08. An old, old elephant will start out this afternoon from Madison Square Garden on a pilgrimage to the grave of the first elephant that ever came to the United States.
  3. ^ "'Old John' Nears end of Rainbow" Hartford Courant, 30 June 1929
  4. ^ "Town Heaps Honors on Old Bet's Grave. But Pap Fellowes and His Cornet Inject a Little Discord in Memorial to an Elephant. But the Youngsters All Enjoy It and Feed Peanuts to Old John, Who Lays Wreath on Monument". New York Times. April 14, 1922. Retrieved 2010-01-08. The memorial services for Old Bet in Somers, N.Y., yesterday, solemn except for the part which old Pap Fellowes and the cornet played, were all that anybody. even Old Bet herself, might have wished. But it is true that Pap sort of gummed things up. Pap did something to the cornet out behind ...
  5. ^ "Mr. Fellows Hints at Unusual Acts, but He Is Sad Over Death of Old John, the Elephant". New York Times. April 3, 1932. Retrieved 2010-01-08. Dexter Fellows, who has been the advance guard of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus these many years, had another announcement yesterday. Tuesday night will see the circus almost intact in Madison Square Garden. Only the mysterious "Man From India" will be missing.