..Jon Simonds..

Elephant Towns
The Basically Brooklyn Series

Alfred, Maine and Ellenton, Florida seemingly have little in common. Ellenton is tucked away in a corner of Manatee County on the gulf coast of Florida. Its biggest draw is the Ellenton outdoor mall. It's home to roughly 3,500 people and spans an area of approximately 4.8 square miles. Ellenton was so named back in 1881 by the owners of the Gamble Plantation, George and Mary Patten who named the town after their daughter, Ellen.

Alfred is tucked away in the middle of York County Maine. Its biggest draw being Alfred is the County seat of York County as well as home to the County Court House and the County jail. Like Ellenton, it is also home to roughly 3,500 people and spans an area of approximately 28 square miles. Alfred the Great, a ninth century Saxon King from England is whom the town is named after. Alfred (the Great, not the town) was most notably famous for turning back and invasion of Wessex by the Vikings and went on to become the Ruler of England.

Ellenton is also the winter home of Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus and likely owes this job-producing company, often referred to as the Greatest Show on Earth, to Alfred (the town, not the Great). This is attributed to the fact, some 200 years ago a farmer by the name of Hachaliah Bailey, a New Yorker, bought himself a pachyderm with big ears, a long trunk and an exceptional talent for uncorking and "guzzling" bottles of beer.

The pair travelled at night stopping at one town after another, charging people twenty-five cents to see and touch the creature. The elephant was known as ole Bet and ole Bet along with Mr. Baily (though they could not have known this) had a date with destiny in old Alfred Maine.

Alfred was home to one Daniel Davis who mortgaged his farm to buy a sawmill in 1816. This was the year without a summer as frost killed crops and snow fell in July. It was a tough year. The kind of year in which it was harder than heck to make a buck, kind of like it is now only then the only stamps were postage stamps and all sorts of other benefits weren't yet available for struggling families. Davis lost his brother earlier in the year and was not only responsible for his family-but his brothers, as well. One cannot begin to imagine his outrage upon seeing a man charging .25 cents for viewing some four-legged monstrosity. As a matter of record, on July 26th, 1816, Mr. Davis was so outraged he blasted Ole Bet full of musket ending the life of beer guzzling elephant. Davis disappeared after 3 days in jail never to be heard of again.

The crime of killing an elephant, however, was picked up by all the major news outlets catching the attention of one PT Barnum, who later met with Bailey giving birth to the Greatest Show on Earth, which later merged with the Ringling Bros.

One can only hope the fathers in Alfred haven't forgotten Ole Bet, or the fact that July 26th marks the bicentennial of an act setting into motion a series of events leading to the Greatest Show on Earth, something every parent has likely taken a child to on at least one occasion. So far as I know, there is no truth to the rumor Alfred is planning a Trunk Week - the biggest Elephant Festival America has ever seen, but who knows. That winter home in Ellenton is vacant and its occupants are reportedly coming north for the summer.

* * *