Murderous Mary

The press called her Murderous Mary, but Mary actually was a five-ton circus elephant lynched from a one-hundred-ton railroad crane car in Erwin on September 13, 1916. She had killed her trainer the day before in Kingsport. Because of East Tennesseans' outrage over the incident, the owner of the circus, John Sparks, decided Mary would be killed in full public view.

An estimated two thousand people assembled in the Clinchfield yard to witness the spectacle. A circus roustabout chained one of Mary's legs to a steel rail. Another roustabout slipped the crane car's 3/4-inch steel chain around the elephant's neck.

The chain tightened, and Mary was lifted into the air. Unfortunately, no one remembered to unchain Mary's leg, and the crane strained against itself with the elephant dangling in the middle. With a loud crack, the chain snapped, and Mary fell heavily to the ground. Onlookers scattered in an effort to escape, but Mary remained where she fell; the fall had broken her hip.

A roustabout climbed onto the elephant's back and attached a heavier chain. Once again, the noose was drawn, and Mary was lifted off the ground. Five minutes later, she was dead by strangulation.

Citation Information

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  • Article Title Murderous Mary
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date June 20, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018