Author Googles His Way to Tragic Tale of Wrongfully Executed Elephant

Ahead of journalist Michael Daly’s 7 p.m. book reading and signing event tomorrow night at Brooklyn Heights Montessori School, Samantha Samel of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle caught up with the author of Topsy: The Startling Story of the Crooked-Tailed Elephant, P. T. Barnum, and the American Wizard, Thomas Edison.

Published July 2 by Atlantic Monthly Press, the book offers a thoroughly researched look at the early days of U.S. circuses and the sad, symptomatic storyline of Topsy. Smuggled into the U.S. in 1877, the performing elephant ultimately met with a tragic, cruel end. Daly explains how he came to the topic:

“My editor suggested doing a murder case from earlier times. I Googled New York executions and came across the clip of Topsy being electrocuted in 1903.”

“I knew about her from time I had spent in Coney Island, but I was not sure it was a book until I came across a small New York Times clip from 1905 saying that two men had been fishing in the pre-dawn darkness off Staten Island, when they heard a trumpeting and a large something began coming at them through the water. They rowed in a panic towards shore and the thing followed, coming up on the beach and revealing itself to be an elephant.”

Daly would go on to discover through his research that Topsy was in fact innocent of the “man killer” charges that led to her execution. The journalist and author, currently with Newsweek-Daily Beast, also notes in the interview that that Coney Island’s Homicide gang figured prominently in his notable first bit of reporting.

[Jacket cover courtesy Atlantic Monthly Press]