Miss Fancy (born c. 1872; died 1954 in Buffalo, New York) was an elephant that served as the star attraction at the Birmingham Zoo when it was located in the southeast corner of Avondale Park from 1913 to 1934.
The Birmingham Advertising Club bought the 41 year-old for $2000 from the struggling Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus in 1913. They used her as a promotional gimmick and, once the novelty faded, donated her to the city. Another story, promulgated by former Miami Herald editor Ellis Hollums, is that Birmingham Age-Herald publisher Ed Barrett won her from a circus owner in a poker game. In any case, the Age-Herald took credit for presenting the animal as a gift "to the children of Birmingham". $500 was raised through children's donations of pennies to provide for her care. The city constructed a green-painted elephant house at Avondale Park. She was initially placed under the custodianship of Dayton Allen, who was instructed on her care and handling by circus trainer Curly Hayes.
She was an early and enduring favorite of the city's white schoolchildren. African-Americans were not admitted to Avondale Park under the city's segregation laws. The publicity surrounding the new attraction led members of 16th Street Baptist Church to petition the city to be allowed to picnic at the park one Sunday. The Birmingham City Commission accepted the petition, and decided to allow all Black residents to visit the park on July 9, 1914. The decision was harshly criticized by the Avondale Civic League, and the church withdrew its request.
Miss Fancy was reported to have eaten 150 pounds of hay and three gallons of grain per day, washed down with 60-115 gallons of fresh water and supplemented by popcorn, peanuts, apples and watermelons brought to her by residents. Despite being exercised by giving rides to children and leading parades to Legion Field before the annual Birmingham-Southern-Howard football game, Miss Fancy managed to grow from 4,800 to over 8,500 pounds during her years in Birmingham.
Miss Fancy was also known to be a drinker, consuming quarts of confiscated whisky provided by city officials during prohibition. The liquor was mixed with the elephant's feed as a treatment for constipation or chills. A good bit of it also found its way into the throat of her long-time caretaker, John Todd, who often appeared drunk in public. Miss Fancy often escaped from her enclosure and wandered the streets of Avondale, Woodlawn and Forest Park, sampling the delights of kitchen gardens and peeping into windows. She was almost always a gentle presence, but on at least two occasions she caused damage to property. Once, in 1925 she knocked over the park's cookhouse and kicked over a couple of fire hydrants. In Spring of 1931 she barreled through the trees up Red Mountain in an apparent rage.
The $4,600 annual expense of keeping the animal menagerie operating led Park Board to suggest closing the zoo as early as 1932. The Birmingham Board of Education declined an offer to take over Miss Fancy's care, as did former Mayor George Ward, proprietor of the Roman-styled Vestavia estate on Shades Mountain. He told the board that "Lions, tigers and elephants contributed to the downfall of the Roman Empire. No elephant will have the opportunity to bring about the disintegration of my Roman empire."
Miss Fancy was ultimately sold, along with the rest of the park's exotic animals, to the Cole Brothers - Clyde Beatty Circus of Rochester, Indiana for a total of $710. Circus crews arrived on November 11, 1934 to accompany the elephant to her new quarters in Peru, Indiana. The first boxcar proved too small for the giantess, and she waited by the rail siding for a larger carriage, which departed the city about 7:00 PM. Todd rode with her, but soon returned to Birmingham and worked in the city's greenhouse. The Cole Brothers soon announced the acquisition of "Frieda", an 8,600 lb. elephant from Birmingham, "which towered over the other three in the elephant row". That name didn't seem to stick, and she toured with the circus as "Bama" in 1935 and 1937.
Miss Fancy was mentioned in Fannie Flagg's novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. Her image was adopted in the logo of the Avondale Brewing Company. A diminuative bronze statue was added as a centerpiece of the plaza of the renovated Avondale Park in 2012.
- The Cole Bros. Circus acquired another "Frieda" in 1947. This Frieda died of old age in 1957. Yet another Frieda from the Cole Bros. Circus was involved in a series of fatal incidents and two rampages from 1985-1995.
- "'Miss Fancy', the Elephant Presented to the Children of Birmingham by the Age-Herald, Out for Her Morning Walk in the Avondale Zoo with Her Keeper, Dayton Allen." (November 14, 1915) Birmingham Post-Herald rotogravure section
- Conway, Chris. "Personable Pachyderm: She Was City's Pride." (July 15, 1968) Birmingham Post-Herald
- "Circus Officials and Celebreties Meet at Quarters." (November 17, 1934) Rochester (Indiana) News-Sentinel, quoted in Wendell C. and John B. Tombaugh (2001) "Fulton County Indiana Handbook: Cole Bros. Clyde Beatty Circus." Rochester, Indiana: Tombaugh House
- Baggett, James L. (Fall 2012) "Miss Fancy, Queen of the Avondale Zoo." Alabama Heritage. No. 106, pp. 56-8