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Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing is one of those wonderful stories that is so delightful, one’s first reaction is to wonder if it were really true. It has wonderful elements of Americana and New York City history: The Brooklyn Bridge, P.T. Barnum, the Circus, and a publicity stunt to promote the safety of the new bridge and, oh, by the way, get some free front-page publicity for the Circus.

The Bridge was one of the wonders of the Industrial Revolution. Begun just after the Civil War, in 1869, it took fourteen years to build. The bridge joins downtown Manhattan with downtown Brooklyn. The two towers, at 275 feet above the water, dwarfed anything else in the New York skyline when they were built. The were the equivalent of a 25 story building – at a time when the tallest buildings in Manhattan were only five stories tall.

New Yorkers had watched the construction of the bridge for fourteen years. There was some skepticism about whether the bridge could possible stand, with its woven wire cables carrying a thousand-foot long stretch of roadway a hundred feet above the water. Who wanted to go a hundred feet up in the air on a bridge that might fall? Other bridges had fallen. How could anyone know that this one could be trusted? A hundred feet up in the air? That was twice as high as the roof of the tallest building in the city!

Phineas T. Barnum saw the opening of the bridge – and the skepticism of New Yorkers – as a great opportunity for some publicity for his circus.

When Barnum’s circus came to New York in April of 1884, the Circus parade up Broadway was led by the star of the show – Jumbo, the elephant. After the parade passed City Hall, it continued on towards the new bridge.

One after another,
The elephants press onward,
Silently trusting the wood planks and steel.
Five, six, then seven were crossing.
Ten, eleven – and still there were more!

How many elephants could the bridge hold?

This is fun book. The author of the text has done her research well. The illustrator, too, has studied the setting and the times and captures the feel of New York in the 1880’s – an era when new things were possible.

Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing
is a hardback, 32 pages, full color throughout. The price is $16.00, available directly from Greenleaf Press.

- Rob Shearer
Publisher, Greenleaf Press

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