7:30 pm (Berwick Academy)
Old Bet the elephant toured the Maine frontier during the frigid year of 1816 - Maine's Year Without Summer - until her trail's end in Alfred. Bruce Tucker will present the details of Maine's only successful elephant hunt and the consequences of this sad affair.
Drawing by Marcia Oakes Woodbury of South Berwick
The details of Maine's only successful elephant hunt and the consequences of this sad affair will be the subject of a lecture at 7:30 pm Thursday, Nov. 17 at Berwick Academy's Jeppesen Science Center on Academy Street.
Bruce Tucker, president of the Alfred Historical Society, will talk about Old Bet, the elephant whose story intertwines the earliest history of American circus with the weather in 1816 - the cataclysmic "Year Without Summer" in Maine. The talk, which is open to the public, is sponsored by the Old Berwick Historical Society. Refreshments will be served by volunteers.
The New York owners of the second elephant in America took Old Bet on tour each summer and displayed her for money wherever they could find a crowd. In 1816, Old Bet came to Maine, stopping at several Maine seaports as far north as Belfast, then sailed up the Kennebec River to Augusta and Hallowell. There, Old Bet began her journey afoot, traveling through Lewiston and New Gloucester and eventually to Alfred.
Several diarists who also note the remarkable weather of that year chronicle old Bet's time in Maine. The failing crops and desperate plight of one Maine farmer could hint at why Bet met her sad fate in Alfred. The incident received coverage in newspapers nationwide under headlines proclaiming “Murder Most Foul” and a young nation clamored for justice to be served on the perpetrator. Alas, it was not to be. Old Bet’s bones and hide were returned to New York for display, eventually residing in the museum owned by PT Barnum. Her killer’s fate remains unknown.
Tucker, a graduate of the University of Maine, lives in Alfred with his wife, Janet, and a couple cats. In the barn are a coop full of laying hens, half dozen turkeys and a trio of fat pigs destined for the freezer.