FROM THE COLLECTION : Washington's Prize Possessions

(Pablo Martinez Monsivais - AP)

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Sunday, August 7, 2005

Once, but not any more, he was billed as "The Biggest Elephant Ever Shot by Man." Today, in the rotunda of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, his stuffed skin strides, ears fanned. He died in Angola in a thicket near Macusso on Nov. 13, 1955. Sixteen bullets from a .416 Rigby killed him. After the first one hit he ran for six miles "with blood gushing from his trunk," wrote J.J. Fenykovi, his killer and his donor, "a sure sign I had got him in the lungs." His tusks were seven feet long, his height, at the withers, was 13 feet 2 inches. Twenty-three bearers were unable to lift his bloody hide, which weighed more than two tons. Salt preserved it until it arrived here, says the label, "stiff as a board." He's no longer the biggest ever shot. Now he's just the biggest ever mounted, which isn't the same. A bigger one, six inches taller, was bagged in Angola in 1974 by E.M. Nielsen Jr., a car dealer from Columbus, Neb.

Gentlemen for centuries have thought it grand to display proudly trophies of the hunt. The great elephant on the Mall is at the end of that tradition.

-- Paul Richard

The tusks you see are plastic; his are in storage. The National Museum of Natural History, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW, is open from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. through Sept. 4, except on Wednesday, Aug. 10, when it will close at 5:30 for a special event. Call 202-633-1000 or visithttp://www.mnh.si.edu. Admission is free.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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