In 1903 Topsy the elephant was given copper sandals to wear at the amusement park in Coney Island. Hundreds of spectators and photographers crowded close, Thomas Edison's film crew got the camera in position. With the flick of a switch, steam filled the air and electricity ran through her body.
The electrocution of Topsy the elephant in New York is just one low point in man's long and complex relationship with the animal. The elephant's huge size has allowed us to load it with attributes like supernatural strength, great wisdom, phenomenal memory. And we've always wanted to be close to it, to harness the power, to use it, to destroy it.
Brett Westwood tracks our cultural relationship with the elephant, from battlefield to big top, via Swahili proverbs, artworks on the streets of Sheffield, DH Lawrence, and the festivities for Lord Ganesha at the Hounslow Ganeshotsav Mandal in West London.
Producer: Melvin Rickarby