Old Bet (died July 24, 1816) was the first circus elephant and the second elephant brought to the United States. There are reports of an elephant brought to the United States in 1796, but it is not known for certain that this was the elephant that was later named Old Bet.
The first elephant brought to the United States was in 1796, aboard the America which set sail from Calcutta for New York on December 3, 1795. However, it is not certain that this was Old Bet. The first references to Old Bet start in 1804 in Boston as part of a menagerie. In 1808, while residing in Somers, New York, Hachaliah Bailey purchased the menagerie elephant for $1,000 and named it "Old Bet".
On July 24, 1816, Old Bet was killed while on tour near Alfred, Maine by local farmer Daniel Davis who shot her, and was later convicted of the crime. While many people believe that the farmer thought it was sinful for people to pay to see an animal, another suspected reason is jealousy.
In 1821, the Barnum's American Museum in New York announced that they had bought the hide and bones of Old Bet and would mount the remains at the museum. The elephant was memorialized in 1825 with a statue and the Elephant Hotel in Somers, New York. In 1922 the elephant John L. Sullivan walked 53 miles to lay a wreath for the memory of Old Bet at her memorial statue.
- Hershenson, Roberta (December 8, 2002). "Under the Big Top". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-07-21.
Old Bet, called the second elephant in America by the Somers Historical Society, was also one of the most important elephants in America. The Elephant Hotel in Somers was built in 1825 to honor her, and her owner, Hachaliah Bailey of Somers, and is now in its third century of circus fame. Old Bet was part of the new tradition of menageries -- elephants, tigers, giraffes, rhinos and other exotic animals imported from abroad -- that traveled the countryside with circuses beginning about 1804. Now an exhibition and a theatrical production recall those early circus days.
- "Setting The Record Straight On Old Bet.". American Heritage. Retrieved 2008-03-21.
It is not an established fact that Old Bet was the first elephant to arrive in America, and quite possibly she was second. An April, 1796, publication, Greenleaf’s New York, mentions an elephant journeying to our shores aboard the ship America. A few days later an elephant was exhibited around Beaver Street and Broadway, according to an advertisement in The Argus, April 23, 1796. This area was the location of the Bull’s Head Tavern, a place frequented by ships’ captains, drovers, and a variety of businessmen. Hachaliah Bailey of Somers, New York, regularly stayed at the Bull’s Head when he took his cattle to the abattoir, which was located nearby. The newspaper reports that the first elephant was sold to a 'Mister Owen.' Unfortunately, they gave no other information about the man, nor did they tell what he did with the elephant he bought, but Hachaliah Bailey’s business partner and brother-in-law was named Owen.
- Crowninshield, Bowdoin Bradlee (1901). An Account of the Private Armed Ship "America" of Salem. um.bookprep.com. XXXVII. The Essex Institute Historical Collection. p. 1. Retrieved March 3, 2013.
- Goodwin, George G. (October 1951). "The Crowninshield Elephant : The surprising story of Old Bet, the first elephant ever to be brought to America". Pick from the Past. Natural History. Retrieved 29 January 2013.
- "Old Bet". RoadsideAmerica.com. Retrieved 2010-01-08.
- "The Elephant Comes to America". HistoryBuff.com. Retrieved 2010-01-08.
In 1821, the American Museum in New York announced that they had bought Old Bet and she would now be on permanent display at the museum.
- "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.
- "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 ...
- Collins, Kate Irish (31 Aug 2011). "Elephant named Old Bet not forgotten". Keep ME Current. Current Publishing; Waterboro Reporter. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
- "Old Bet's Miserable Summer". Old Berwick Historical Society. 17 Nov 2011. Retrieved 31 July 2014.