As published in the Record Journal Sunday March 24, 2013
By Andrew Ragali
WALLINGFORD – Social media are known to spread rumors, but sometimes the truth comes out, as in a far-fetched story posted recently on the Wallingford CT Community Forum Facebook page.
In the discussion thread, which started on March 12, topics ranged from actors and politicians rumored to have attended private school in town to the onetime inhabitants of Community Lake. While some information on the thread can’t be confirmed, there is truth to at least one topic: There’s an elephant buried in Wallingford.
“Did you know there’s an elephant buried in town?” Laura Bertekap wrote on the Facebook page. “I told you, we’ve got everything!”
In response, another commenter asked for more information. Slowly, more and more information on the elephant burial trickled in from several sources. Ray Ross wrote on Facebook that he had watched the burial.
“She is buried in front of one of the old hangars that is across the street from the Elec. Division on John Street,” he wrote. “She is under the street.” Ross did not return a call seeking comment.
On June 29, 1953, the Mills Bros. Circus came to Wallingford to perform two shows, sponsored by the Wallingford Lions Club. The circus was set up at the town’s airport, now the property of the Electric Division, near South Cherry Street.
“There were elephants and trained dogs, ponies and white horses, special acts and monkeys, a ‘big top’ and several smaller tops,” an article in the Meriden Record said of preparations for the circus on the morning of June 29, 1953.
The circus brought 13 elephants to Wallingford that summer, but left with only a dozen. On July 1, the Meriden Record reported that the circus left at 5 a.m. on June 30, “but ‘Miss India,’ a 2,600 pound cow elephant, didn’t know it. She died several hours earlier.”
According to the article, Miss India was 25 years old, the youngest and most pleasant- tempered of the “40 tons of elephants in the show.” It was believed she died of a heart attack at about 2:30 a.m. on June 30.
It is thought “Miss India” died early in the morning because residents of South Cherry Street, according to the story, heard “a great trumpeting at about that time in which all the elephants seemed to have joined in.”
The elephant had made her last performance the night before, and acted normally. But during her afternoon show, “Miss India” kept lying down and behaving unusually.
After it was found that the elephant had died, there was the issue of what to do with the carcass. The Meriden Record reported that a circus attendant stayed behind to make arrangements. Police in town began calling rendering plants in New Haven and Bridgeport “to see if the carcass could be turned into tallow.”
The Peabody Museum in New Haven was also contacted, but had inadequate staff to handle the elephant. “Finally, it was decided to bury her where she fell,” just east of the hangars at the old airport property, about 25 feet from South Cherry Street, according to the Record.
Alfred Audisio, an excavator and owner of the Audisio Excavating Co. in Wallingford, brought a gasoline operated shovel and diesel bulldozer to dig the elephant’s grave. Audisio died in 1998 at the age of 88, said his grandson, Jerry Farrell Jr., president of the Wallingford Historic Preservation Trust.
“He was one of the big-time excavators for that period,” Farrell said of his grandfather. Growing up, Farrell recalls hearing the story of the elephant from his grandfather. “We heard many of his old stories,” he said.
Farrell said that his grandfather never wanted to stir up a lot of interest in the elephant out of fear someone would attempt to dig her up. He said his grandfather wanted her to rest in peace.
“I guess I feel the same way he does,” Farrell said. “Obviously, she is buried at some depth. My grandfather had very heavy machinery.” Audisio dug a hole 18 feet deep, with a volume of 480 cubic yards, the Record reported.
The Record reported that “Miss India” got plenty of attention after her death. Sixty people, mostly children, gathered to watch the burial. Several kids stood on the carcass to be photographed.
After the hole was dug, Audisio pushed Miss India into her final resting place with his excavator’s shovel. Advising Audisio were Edward Ferry, the town’s sanitary inspector, and John Nolan, superintendent of the borough street department. The process began before noon and lasted until after 4 p.m., the Record reported.
“How many towns in America have a buried elephant?” said Bob Beaumont, a Wallingford resident interested in local history. Beaumont said he had heard of the buried elephant, but didn’t know any details.
Town Councilor Jason Zandri, who participated in discussion on the Facebook thread, said he’s heard about the buried elephant as well. “You have a scenario where you have an animal that died, so what do you do with it?” he said. Zandri said there’s no marker where “Miss India” was buried.
“It was back in a time when the circus still used to come around,” Zandri said. “The circus is another thing that doesn’t come around much anymore.”
Farrell said he and his grandfather kept the exact location of the elephant’s grave a secret over the years. The only people who know would be the 60 or so who watched the burial on June 30. One of those people, then-First Selectman Edward Leonard, oddly, made the elephant’s death political. The Record reported that Leonard quipped that the death was an omen of the coming election.
“Even the elephants are dying in Wallingford,” he said.