In 1916, a circus in Tennessee sentenced an elephant to death by hanging

In the early 1900s, it wasn't uncommon for humans to use their waxing technological prowess for the express purpose of torturing the hell out of animals. In one particularly mind-boggling incident, a five-ton circus elephant named Mary was condemned to death by hanging after her owners nixed executions by firearms, dismemberment, and electrocution.

After Mary killed her handler in St. Paul, Virginia because of abuse/poor training/a toothache/some nebulous combination thereof, the proprietors of Sparks World Famous Shows executed the pachyderm in the railyards of Erwin, Tennessee on September 13, 1916. As Blue Ridge magazine recalled in 1993:

Mary didn't perform for the matinee performance the day she died. She was chained outside the circus tent, and folks say she spent the entire performance time swaying nervously. The crowd's dissatisfaction with her absence was mollified by the announcement that Mary would be hung in the Clinchfield Railyards later in the afternoon — with no additional charge for admission.

More than 2,500 people gathered to watch Mary swing near the turn-table and powerhouse on that drizzly afternoon; perhaps the number of eyewitnesses, as well as the unforgettable, sad spectacle of the event, explains the consensus on this part of the story [...] Wade Ambrose, who was 20 at the time Mary was hung, recalls that the roustabouts chained Mary's leg to the rail, then drove her companions back around the roundhouse.

"They had a time getting the chain around her neck. Then they hooked the boom to the neck chain, and when they began to lift her up, I heard the bones and ligaments cracking in her foot. They finally discovered that she'd not been released from the rail, so they did that."

It doesn't seem surprising that the chain from which Mary hung snapped shortly after she was raised off the ground. It was, after all, just a 7/8" chain, and Mary weighed 10,000 pounds. She hit the ground and sat upright, immobilized from the pain of a broken hip.

Once the crowd realized that Mary wasn't going to bolt, she was again hoisted up and left on display for 30 minutes. The infamous photo above might be a real snapshot of this incident — there's also a chance she was hung again postmortem for a photo opportunity. For a similar (but far less depressing) affair, see the time idiot humans thought it would be a grand idea to put an elephant on a German monorail.

Spotted on Reddit. Top image via.