Legend of the Pachyderms 

Was Belle Isle once the home of two Indian Elephants?

click to enlarge YATHIN S. KRISHNAPPA
  • Yathin S. Krishnappa

Ever hear that legend about the elephants of Belle Isle — you know, the ones that died in a tragic flood back in 1870?

It was a new one to Kelly Kerney, a research assistant at the Valentine Richmond History Center, until she was asked to look into it.

"This is not the first time I've dealt with this question," she writes in an email to Style Weekly. "And, I'm sorry to report, we can find no evidence here in the archives to support the story."

Users on Reddit, an online message board of sorts, also were flummoxed recently by memories of the tale. While they attempted to research it, they, too, ran into dead ends. The only hard evidence they could produce was a picture of a now-vanished interpretive sign a user said he'd taken on the island near the quarry.

The sign reads: "Elephant House. Originally occupied by granite-mining equipment, in 1867 this area was adapted as an enclosure for two Indian elephants, Badri and Bahula, a gift of the British Raj to the city of Richmond. In 1870, rising floodwaters forced an evacuation of the island. Tragically, while fleeing, the celebrated pair and their two keepers drowned when the bridge they were crossing collapsed under the force of the river's current."

So is it true? Or a figment of Photoshop?

We took the question to Ralph White, the retired director of the James River Park System, who happens to be responsible for authoring and installing the bulk of the interpretive signs that dot the island.

It turns out the sign was real. But the message it carried was the product of someone's imagination, White says. We'll let him take the story from here:

"It was a piece of humor and social commentary — a wonderful joke that somebody did making an interpretive sign and gluing it on top of the existing sign. It must have been three years ago. They used brown and white lettering and everything looked pretty much like all the other signs, only it told the story about how elephants were kept chained on the rocks."

White removed it after a few weeks, but that's all the time it took for the story to take hold. "It's how folklore is made out of whole cloth," White says.

Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

  • Re: Why They Keep Fighting: Richmond Protesters Explain Their Resistance to Trump's America

    • cclaravidente, I trust then that you have opened your home to house and take care…

    • on March 30, 2017
  • Re: Why They Keep Fighting: Richmond Protesters Explain Their Resistance to Trump's America

    • There was a place to resist Trump. It was called the ballot box. And a…

    • on March 30, 2017
  • Re: Why They Keep Fighting: Richmond Protesters Explain Their Resistance to Trump's America

    • These people still don't get it. Trump won not because of "fear hate and white…

    • on March 29, 2017
  • More »
  • Latest in News and Features

    More by Ned Oliver

    • Auto Spying

      Virginia lawmakers are fighting against the use of license-plate scanners by police. But what about the people privately watching your whereabouts?
      • Apr 28, 2015
    • City Explores Tax on Richmond Airbnb Rentals

      • Apr 21, 2015
    • Flash Forward

      Richmond is getting a $54 million, high-speed bus line right down Broad Street. But do we need it? Here are the answers to seven questions you might be asking.
      • Apr 21, 2015
    • More »

    Copyright © 2017 Style Weekly
    Richmond's alternative for news, arts, culture and opinion
    All rights reserved
    Powered by Foundation