Oct. 12, 1871
Miss Fancy, a gentle Indian elephant and the star of Birmingham’s first public zoo, was born Oct. 12, 1871.
From 1913 to 1934, the Avondale Zoo was located in Avondale Park. The zoo bought Miss Fancy from a struggling circus for $2,000. In 1914, the city of Birmingham budgeted $500 for an elephant house.
John Todd, an African American zoo worker from Alexander City, was Miss Fancy’s caretaker. He made up to $24 a week. When Todd was called to serve in World War I for nearly a year, Miss Fancy “wasted away” to a fraction of her 4,800 pounds. When he returned, Fancy greeted Todd with a series of trumpet blasts. When he was on vacation, the zoo sent Todd requests to return and spend time with his elephant, to calm her down.
Miss Fancy was loved by the city’s children. She knew visitors who brought her treats and gave them special attention. Todd would hoist seven youngsters onto her back for a ride around the elephant pen.
Miss Fancy escaped 12 times, wandering around Avondale. In 1931, she bolted from her grazing area and barreled through the trees up Red Mountain, until she was caught on Overlook Road.
Miss Fancy finally weighed in at 8,560 pounds. She ate up to 170 pounds of hay a day, up to five gallons of grain and as much as 110 gallons of fresh water. It cost about $4,600 to feed and care for Miss Fancy and the other exotic animals. The cost led the city to sell Miss Fancy and the other animals to the Cole Brothers – Clyde Beatty Circus.
Miss Fancy’s legacy endures: Her image is part of the logo of Avondale Brewing Co. and her name was lent to Fancy’s on Fifth oyster bar.
For more on Alabama’s Bicentennial, visit Alabama 200.