A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from May 23, 2005
Republican Elephant
I generally agree that cartoonist Thomas Nast should get credit for the Republican elephant. His November 1874 Harper's Weekly illustrations are the clearest exaqmples we have.

However, the 1873 elephant cartoon of George Francis Train, from the New York Daily Graphic, is very, very similar.

Gop.com
This symbol of the party was born in the imagination of cartoonist Thomas Nast and first appeared in Harper's Weekly on November 7, 1874.

An 1860 issue of Railsplitter and an 1872 cartoon in Harper's Weekly connected elephants with Republicans, but it was Nast who provided the party with its symbol.

Oddly, two unconnected events led to the birth of the Republican Elephant. James Gordon Bennett's New York Herald raised the cry of "Caesarism" in connection with the possibility of a third term try for President Ulysses S. Grant. The issue was taken up by the Democratic politicians in 1874, halfway through Grant's second term and just before the midterm elections, and helped disaffect Republican voters.

While the illustrated journals were depicting Grant wearing a crown, the Herald involved itself in another circulation-builder in an entirely different, nonpolitical area. This was the Central Park Menagerie Scare of 1874, a delightful hoax perpetrated by the Herald. They ran a story, totally untrue, that the animals in the zoo had broken loose and were roaming the wilds of New York's Central Park in search of prey.

Cartoonist Thomas Nast took the two examples of the Herald enterprise and put them together in a cartoon for Harper's Weekly. He showed an ass (symbolizing the Herald) wearing a lion's skin (the scary prospect of Caesarism) frightening away the animals in the forest (Central Park). The caption quoted a familiar fable: "An ass having put on a lion's skin roamed about in the forest and amused himself by frightening all the foolish animals he met within his wanderings."

One of the foolish animals in the cartoon was an elephant, representing the Republican vote - not the party, the Republican vote - which was being frightened away from its normal ties by the phony scare of Caesarism. In a subsequent cartoon on November 21, 1874, after the election in which the Republicans did badly, Nast followed up the idea by showing the elephant in a trap, illustrating the way the Republican vote had been decoyed from its normal allegiance. Other cartoonists picked up the symbol, and the elephant soon ceased to be the vote and became the party itself: the jackass, now referred to as the donkey, made a natural transition from representing the Herald to representing the Democratic party that had frightened the elephant.

--From William Safire's New Language of Politics, Revised edition, Collier Books, New York, 1972

7 April 1873, The Daily Graphic (NY), pg. 8.
There is a cartoon of "THE WHITE ELEPHANT IN THE TOMBS." The elephant is "G.F.T.," or George Francis Train.

28 August 1874, Chicago (IL) Inter Ocean, pg. 4, col. 1:
When the Republican elephant walks over the child put forward at Springfield on Wednesday its own parents won't recognize it. Let the Bourbons be patient and prepare to smile.
Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Monday, May 23, 2005 • Permalink