Family Album: An Elephant Never Forgets

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They say an elephant never forgets. Neither do Davidson alumni when they cast their minds back to their salad days! Several readers wrote to identify the student perched atop the elephant in the current Family Album photo on page 63 of the Spring 2016 Davidson Journal’s print edition.

That’s Karen Long ’81, physics major, atop the towering pachyderm.

“I think it was the spring of 1979, my sophomore year,” Long wrote. “Each year a small circus came to down and set up on the other side of Main Street. My roommate, Elizabeth Alexander Hamilton, was somehow involved with it and they had a raffle for someone to ride the elephant in the parade. I was struggling that year and Elizabeth knew I would like to ride the elephant. I was surprised I won but always suspected she helped me win as she knew I needed the mental boost. I am sitting behind the elephant handler. I wore Sid Barrett’s bowler and tails, short, black stockings and tennis shoes. I think that was the last year for the circus as the ringmaster was severely bitten by one of the chimps. It was a small one-ring circus that probably could not operate today. I am glad that we as a society have seen the light and that animals need their self-determination and are not there to do stupid tricks for us.”

Kudos also to Marie Murdaugh ’81 for correctly naming Long, and taking a guess at another student in the picture. “I believe that’s Anne Eglin, Class of 1980 walking by on the ground,” she wrote.

Ken Connor ’80 recalled, “I suspect the photo came during one of the visits in the 1976-1979 period. It was a big event when they would roll into tiny Davidson and parade all the animals. I believe it might have been Circus Vargas. I don’t remember that they were ever on campus, but I could imagine that did happen during one of their visits.

“I remember during one of the years (maybe 1978?) I went behind the scenes and did a photo shoot of the performers. I found it fascinating that despite the transient life they had a cohesive ‘family’ lifestyle. I got some fantastic black and white photos… I will have to dig up those negatives and maybe I can find some supporting evidence.”

Finally, Lyman Collins reminds readers that C. Shaw Smith, longtime magical director of the union, as usual was behind it all. Also as usual with such snapshots in time, there is more than meets the eye: “Did they tell you about the baby elephant? Or that the owners insisted on calling Shaw Shawn? Anyway it was fun to remember….”

Spring16 Family Album

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About Author

John Syme '85

Senior Writer John Syme graduated from Davidson with a French degree in 1985. After gigs in newspaper, advertising, translation in France and cross-country travel writing in the United States, he returned to alma mater in 2001. He has no immediate plans to graduate again.

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