John Todd

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John Todd was the keeper and companion of the Avondale Park Zoo's star, Miss Fancy the elephant.

Todd, a native of Alexander City, worked for the Birmingham Department of Parks and Recreation. He and Dayton Allen were employed at the small zoo in Avondale Park in 1913, when the city took possession of its first elephant. Allen and Todd were trained in how to care for Miss Fancy by Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus trainer Curly Hayes. The training included the use of an elephant hook and a series of "Short Indian" command words which Miss Fancy had been trained to obey.

When Allen resigned, Todd became the full-time elephant keeper. He was believed to be the only African-American elephant keeper in the country. He was paid a wage which peaked at $24 per week and reportedly turned down offers from a circus to travel with them at twice the pay.

He was responsible for feeding Miss Fancy, washing her, mucking out her pen, exercising her daily, and keeping her toenails and tusks trimmed. For exercise, he would often take her on 5- to 10-mile walks through nearby neighborhoods, either leading her or riding on her back. The two developed a close bond and Todd was often called back during his vacation weeks to settle her nerves. When he left for 10 months to serve in the army in France during World War I, Miss Fancy lost significant weight. She greeted him with cheerful trumpeting as soon as he returned. Todd characterized the elephant as gentle, but willful. He appealed to her sense of justice by "never [using] the hook unless she has done wrong, and knows that she has done wrong." During her semi-annual "period of madness", Todd remained with her around the clock and restrained her with chains when necessary. On the few occasions when Miss Fancy escaped from her pen, Todd usually found her exploring the neighborhood and easily coaxed her back home with food.

Todd administered Miss Fancy's occasional doses of castor oil or other medicines for chills or constipation. They were mixed, at the veterinarians' suggestions, with a quart of liquor, and diluted with a few gallons of water. Since Miss Fancy's tenure in Birmingham coincided with prohibition, the liquor was provided by the Birmingham City Commission from confiscated stocks. On at least one occasion in early 1934, sometimes remembered as "often times", Todd himself was observed to be inebriated.

Unable to meet the expenses of maintaining an animal collection during the Great Depression, Miss Fancy was sold to the Cole Brothers - Clyde Beatty Circus in November 1934. The Avondale Brewing Company, which uses Miss Fancy as its mascot, has brewed a Belgian-style brown ale and a Double India Pale Ale named "Mr. Todd's" for the elephant's former companion.


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