Buried on the grounds of the 25 wooded acres of the Alaska Zoo, which was her home for just over 28 years, a monument was placed to celebrate the life of a popular elephant. “Annabelle Beloved Asian Elephant 7-17-1965 12-15-1997” is etched on the tall, grey hewn stone. Her photograph is placed prominently and there appears to be a painters brush and palette along the bottom area, significant of her abilities as an artiste. But wait, we all thought she was born in 1964.
According to an archival page from the zoo’s history Annabelle was the driving force behind the beginnings of the nonprofit leading to the 1969 opening of the “Alaska Children’s Zoo”.
But, seriously, an elephant in Alaska? How did that happen?
To garner attention a local paper company, Crown Zellerbach, offered up “$3000. or a baby elephant” as top prize in a drawing. It seems the winner, Jack Snyder, took them up on the offer of an Asian elephant, which was promptly delivered to Alaska. Now, what to do with the gregarious, female baby elephant!
After much thought and consideration Mr. Snyder, who was a grocer, decided that as the Diamond H ranch had heated horse stalls it was fitting that the elephant find a home there. It is unclear whether Sammye Seawell, the owner of the horse ranch, purchased or was given the animal. But it soon became apparent that Annabelle, as she was named, was attracting a lot of attention in town.
By 1968 Seawell and a “small group of supporters” organized and collectively formed a non-profit. The next year “the Alaska’s Children’s Zoo opened” hence Annabelle had a new home. But back to the monument’s etching. Now several sources refer to Annabelle’s birth year as 1964 including: (See also: Alaska Zoo archive )
Yet her headstone is etched with the birth date 17 July 1965. What to think? And yes, an elephant’s birth date matters. Well, only one thought comes to mind.
Oh the irony. That an animal renowned for its keen memory would end up immortalized in such a way. Maybe an elephant never forgets, but humans, well that’s another story.
Photo: Marc Dworkin at RoadsideAmerica.com