200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 87: “Philly's Un-friendliest Celebrity ”

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photo of elephant exhibit
Side-by-side displays of Bolivar in what is now part of North American Hall. Ewell Sale Stewart Library & Archives Coll. no. 49.

Philly's Un-friendliest Celebrity

One of Philadelphia’s biggest 19th-century celebrities was an enormous male Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) named Bolivar. In the 1880s, Bolivar was the star attraction of Adam Forepaugh’s Circus, where he was billed as the “Largest & Heaviest Elephant in the World.” Unfortunately, he also had the reputation of being one of the meanest.

In 1888 Forepaugh decided that Bolivar was too dangerous for his circus and gave him to the Philadelphia Zoo. There Bolivar spent the last 18 years of his life with limited human contact.   After his death in 1908, Bolivar’s remains were donated to the Academy, which displayed his skeleton and mounted hide side by side for the next 10 years. Unfortunately, the skin deteriorated, but the entire skeleton still resides in the basement within the Academy’s Mammalogy Collection.

Read about another famous elephant associated with the Academy.

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