Correction to This Article
The column about the escape of elephants from the Luna Park amusement park in Arlington County in 1906, was accompanied by a photograph of the Luna Park in Pittsburgh. For details on how the image came to be misidentified, see the May 18 column on Page B2.
John Kelly's Washington

The untruncated tale of the great elephant 'escape'

By John Kelly
Sunday, April 18, 2010

Iam perplexed by the March 28 column about the Baileys Crossroads elephants. Was I seeing pink elephants when I frequented the old Luna Park Grille in Arlington's Westover Village? I seem to remember that among the memorabilia on display was a reproduction of a newspaper article about an elephant that wandered through the wild land of Arlington for about four months, having escaped the circus winter camp at the crossroads in the mid-late 1800s. Is this an urban legend?

-- Jerry Filbin, Washington

Not elephant. Elephants. But they did not escape from Baileys Crossroads. You will recall that Answer Man knocked down the myth that there was a circus winter camp at Baileys Crossroads. These elephants came from Luna Park.

Luna Park was an amusement park that opened in 1906 at South Glebe Road and Jefferson Davis Highway. Designed by Frederick Ingersoll, creator of America's first amusement park chain, it featured fanciful buildings in a mishmash of styles, along with such rides as a roller coaster, a log flume and the "Old Woman's Shoe": a 30-foot boot patrons could slide down. The Edisonia Palace displayed the latest advances in "mutoscopic, phonographic and electric inventions," while the Scenictorium featured a series of slides showing an Alpine climbing party.

Such were the attractions in the days before 3-D Imax.

Just as important as what patrons would find at Luna Park was what they wouldn't find. Trumpeted a brochure: "No human skeletons, fat women, tattooed freaks or other distasteful features of the tented shows will be tolerated."

Luna Park was the setting for traveling acts of a presumably more high-brow character. For the week of Aug. 20, 1906, this included, on the hippodrome stage, P.W. Barlow's trained Asian elephants: Tommie, Queenie, Annie and Jennie.

On the morning of Aug. 21, the four elephants escaped. Annie was quickly caught. The others headed toward Alexandria, where they smashed a barn, decimated a cornfield and trampled a graveyard.

By nightfall, Tommie had been apprehended and Barlow was offering a $500 reward for the capture of Queenie and Jennie. He persuaded Maj. Gordon W. Lillie to dispatch some of his men after the pair. Lillie was in town with "Pawnee Bill's Wild West and Great Far East Exhibition." When he put on his red cowboy shirt, he became Pawnee Bill.

On Sunday, Aug. 26, a horse-mounted procession set off from Alexandria toward Baileys Crossroads, where there had been an elephant sighting. They found Jennie in a thicket behind Thomas Rowe's house. After much drama, she was lassoed by a "Wild West" performer named "Mexican Joe."

Said Pawnee Bill: "I've been in a balloon from Paris to Belgium, and I thought it was my most unusual experience, but that is beaten to a standstill by the Virginia elephant hunt." He hustled off to his next engagement, in Havre de Grace.


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