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The case of the missing elephant
Ailish Lalor
22 November 2023
published in Issue Four

An elephant is captivating just by being an elephant. An elephant who goes missing a year after her death, can have a city wrapped around her trunk for almost a century.

In 1937, on a hot afternoon in late August, a 108-year-old elephant named Jenny tripped and fell while trying to board a train in Scheveningen, a district of The Hague. She was one of several elephants owned by Circus Sarrasani, a Dresden-based circus that was touring the Netherlands that summer. As the animal handlers were loading the beastly star performers onto a train that would take them to Rotterdam, Jenny, the final animal to board, stumbled on the gap between the train and the platform, and could not raise herself to her feet again. The fire brigade was called. They encircled Jenny’s belly with chains, and tried and failed to hoist her to her feet with a crane. A suggestion was made to shoot her there and then.

The circus’s owner, Hans Stosch-Sarrasani Jr., was in Czechoslovakia with the other half of the troupe; reached by telegram, he begged for a reprieve for Jenny. The director of the Haagse Dierentuin, a zoo in the centre of the city, took her in for the night. The two Belgian horses that pulled the transport wagon were, according to an eyewitness, terrified by the olifantenlucht, the scent of the elephant behind them.

At the zoo, away from the crowds that had surrounded her in Scheveningen, Jenny died with Hans’ wife, Trude Stosch-Sarrasani, beside her.

Now there was a body, and something had to be done with it.

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Reported by the Haagsche courant on 24 August 1937.

In the 1992 documentary, Jenny: Het Verhaal van een Olifant, the documentary makers interview Ms. Kautz van der Ven, who witnessed Jenny’s accident in Scheveningen in 1937. She comments on the horses’ fear of the olifantenlucht at 00:04:30.

Reported by the Haagsche Courant on 25 August 1937.

Reported by Het Volk on 13 September 1938.

Reported by the Haagsche courant on 13 September 1938.

The best sources on elephant tricks at Sarrasani are promotional materials. See for example the photo section of Ernst Günther’s 1991 book, Sarrasani: Wie er wirklich war. The « Outdoors » section of the American magazine, Variety, also reported on 12 March 1930, on the tricks Sarrasani elephants performed in Berlin.

Reported by the Haagsche courant on 24 August 1937.

The same article appears in both Provinciale Noord-Brabatsche Courant Het Huisgezin and in Het Binnenhof, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of a devastating fire that struck Circus Sarrasani in Antwerp in 1932.