In 1913, Miss Fancy became a Birmingham resident. She would live in our city for 41 years, but her legacy and imprint remain, still holding a big place in this city’s heart today.
For those who grew up in the city, the stories may be familiar and well-known, but for others they may be unaware of the impact that Miss Fancy left, let alone who she was.
Who was Miss Fancy?
Born in 1871 on October 12, Miss Fancy was a large, mostly gentle Indian elephant who lived to be 83 years old. Originally she was a part of a New York traveling circus, but they ran out of money and the Avondale Zoo (the first official Birmingham zoo) wanted her.
The legends about how she was acquired run rampant, and no one really knows the truth about how she arrived in Birmingham. She was definitely traveling in Tuscaloosa when Ed Barrett decided he wanted her for the Avondale Zoo. She cost $500, and the Birmingham Railway, Light & Power Company who was in charge of the Avondale Streetcar, helped, as well as children and grown-ups of the city, Relton Gilreath, Basil Allen, John Nast, as well as an anonymous donor.
Why was she so loved?
Those that brought snacks, Miss Fancy would remember, and look for them. Her trainer left for military reasons, which was almost ten months, and when he returned, Miss Fancy blew her trumpet over and over again because she was so pleased to have him back.
“I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one-hundred percent!” – Dr. Seuss.
Miss Fancy would give rides to young children at the zoo. Sadly, the city was still very much under segregation at that time. Therefore, many people were not allowed to see or ride her.
Unfortunately, there are sad realities of caged animals, and there were a few instances when Miss Fancy would be driven to a bit of madness for 48 hours. They often gave her medicinal alcohol, and eventually the city went into a state of prohibition. Then the city officials began to give her their confiscated alcohol.
Her legend lives on
These stories of Miss Fancy inspired Avondale Brewing to adopt her as their mascot and inspiration. They also have multiple drinks named after her. Fancy’s on 5th also uses her name to represent their Oyster Dive and Burger Bar.
Miss Fancy would lead most parades in the city and was a mascot for Samford University (formerly known as Howard College), leading the charge for a game against Birmingham-Southern College.
In Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Fannie Flag also mentions Miss Fancy in her novel. Her legacy was pervasive and left a mark that many wouldn’t forget.
The stories regarding Miss Fancy stretch far and wide. Some talk about seeing her and her trainer walk through Forest Park, Avondale, or Woodlawn. Others say they would look out their window at night and see her large frame peeking through.
Miss Fancy eventually outgrew her city funded green elephant house, weighing 8,560 pounds. Avondale Park in 2012 built an honorary statue of Miss Fancy, but in 2014, it was destroyed by a drunk driver. They are still raising funds to “Save the Queen.” Let us not forget our beloved beast, Miss Fancy.If you or your family have any stories about Miss Fancy that you would like to share, we would love to hear! Send them to: firstname.lastname@example.org