First Elephant Ever Born in Captivity

Here’s another new image in the collection, part of my growing circus images segment. The photo is of the mother, Hebe, and her baby, “Young America”, the first elephant born in captivity. They were part of Bailey’s circus, later to be bought by P.T. Barnum to become the Barnum & Bailey’s Circus we know today. This may be a photograph of a painting or drawing, I suspect, as the backdrop is somewhat contrived. There is a signature in the lower right corner of the image, “by H.J. Shill Jr.”, who is indicated on the verso as the copyright holder, but the photograph itself was produced by A.W. Rothengatter of Philadelphia (“Instantaneous Photograph from life… No. 1328 Chestnut Street, Phila.”). It’s theoretically possible they brought the two elephants into Rothengatter’s studio and posed them on a painted backdrop, but that would have been a rather sizeable undertaking! Another possibility is that the elephants were photographed, and then in a feat of photo-manipulation worthy of today’s greatest Photoshop wizards, they were merged onto the “jungle” backdrop. The mother looks very photo-realistic, but the baby, not so much. Alternatively this may have been a merger of multiple photographs, and Mr. Shill is getting the credit for the mash-up, which would have been unusual in that day and age as assistants were rarely credited for any work performed and sold under the studio’s name.

Hebe the elephant and "Young America" her baby
Hebe the elephant and "Young America" her baby

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