Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Jumbo the Tufts University mascot

The mascot for Tufts University is “Jumbo,” an elephant that belonged to P T Barnum’s circus and was later displayed at Tufts’ Barnum Hall. Jumbo’s story is a great one. He was born in Africa and was displayed at zoos in France and England before coming to America. He travelled with Barnum’s circus for many years and was tragically killed in a collision with a train in St. Thomas, Ontario in 1885. 

One story is that he saved the young elephant Tom Thumb in the collision but this is not proven by historical accounts. He was said to be the largest elephant in captivity and began the use of the word jumbo to mean large in size.
Jumbos’ remains were split up:  His skeleton went to the American Museum of Natural History in NY where it is today and the hide went to Tufts University. Barnum was a longtime benefactor and director at the college. It was long a favorite of the students hoping for good luck on exams or in sports. Coins would be placed in his trunk; it also appears he was a favorite with the ladies.

One story at the Tufts athletics website states that University of Bridgeport made a push for the remains:
 In 1949, Jumbo's place at Tufts was threatened by the University of Bridgeport, who also wanted to claim the enormous pachyderm for its own mascot because Bridgeport had been home to Barnum and his circus. This challenge was based on the grounds that Barnum owned only half of Jumbo (with Bailey owning the other half), and he could only bequeath his half of the elephant to Tufts.
[Tufts] President Leonard Carmichael answered Bridgeport's request by gracefully stating that since Tufts had been good stewards of Jumbo, the college had the right to choose which half of the elephant it wanted and naturally decided upon the front. Bridgeport declined to take Jumbo's rump, but as a gesture of goodwill Tufts gave the albino elephant that stood beside Jumbo to the Connecticut school.
In 1975, Barnum Hall burned to the ground and Jumbo was destroyed. A bit of his tail was found and preserved and some ashes were placed in a can which is still kept by the athletics department.

 The best Jumbo story I found is in the Tufts University magazine:

American heritage article:

The Barnum museum in Bridgeport, Connecticut has a Jumbo exhibit

There’s even a thorough blog on Jumbo:


  1. Great post, Tom! I didn't know about the dispute between Tufts and Bridgeport. When we visited Tufts University 40 years ago, Barnum Hall, where Jumbo was displayed, was locked up. Six months later, it burned. I read that Jumbo's tail was snapped off by an over-exuberant student. Today, it's housed in the Tufts Archives.

  2. Thanks Linda, Readers will also enjoy your post on Jumbo: