Thursday, March 3, 2016


In the spring of 1908, the Sells-Floto traveling circus arrived in Riverside, California for its annual visit.  Included in the menagerie of animals that came with that circus were a number of elephants.  Their first job was to participate in the circus parade through downtown Riverside, carrying advertisements for local businesses.  On April 16, 1908, there were six elephants, Old Mom, Trilby, Floto, Snyder, Alice and Frieda.

Unbeknownst to the participants, several blocks from the circus grounds a Mr. Leonidas Worsley was at the Standard Oil Company storage yard filling his delivery tank with distillate when the tank exploded, starting a large fire.  Black clouds of smoke filled the air, a wind coming from the north sent sparks directly toward the canvas circus tents.  The black smoke followed.  The elephants, which had been staked out in front of the tents panicked, pulled out their stakes and started running, all except Old Mom and Trilby.  The elephant handlers set out to "capture" the other four, and eventually got all of them except for Floto, who was busy breaking his way through gardens and fences in a residential area.  He was not having a gentle look-see; citizens had started firing their guns hoping to ward off the loose elephant and it had maddened him. 

At the intersection of Fourth and Mulberry Street, Floto spied Ella Gibbs, a spinster of 49 years old who had attempted to visit friends on Mulberry but found them not at home and the house locked up.  Quoting from the Journal of the Riverside Historical Society, in an article written by Aaron Maggs and Allison Maggs, (Issue 17, February 2013, p 21) "As she turned from the door, Gibbs found Floto bearing down on her as he made his way onto the porch.  Floto pinned the frightened woman against the house with his long tusks, then seized her with his trunk, lifting her in the air before dropping her to the porch.  The great beast then butted his head against the helpless woman before bringing his large drum-like forefoot down upon her chest.  He then backed down the porch steps and continued on his way southwest toward Fifth Street."

Ella was taken to the County Hospital, where she died at 9 p.m on April 16, 1908.  Newspapers reported that her body was sent to her home town of Bunker Hill, Illinois.  She was buried in Bunker Hill Cemetery.

She was not the only person killed during this circus event.  The oil delivery man whose tank exploded lived four days before he died.  His story is told on the Immortal Nobodies blot of October 31, 2013.

Cemetery photo by "Denmother" on ""

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