1929: The Elephant in the Room

1929, the year the stock market crashed, was also the year the American Museum of Natural History gave the Hudson River Museum the gift of a taxidermied elephant. No ordinary specimen, the pachyderm fondly known as Tip had worked as a circus performer and lived in the Central Park Zoo, where he tragically killed several of his handlers. “Visitors to the Museum who were local school children in the 1940s and 50s remember Tip,” says longtime curator Laura Vookles. “They ask about him all the time.”

Tip’s arrival was dramatic. Janet Kellock Arnold, who joined the Museum staff as secretary in 1928, once recalled, “The stuffed elephant was delivered to the Museum . . . on a rainy evening after 5. Men worked for hours trying to get the beast indoors, but he got jammed in between the inner and outer doors and as evening descended, they gave up and had to get a police guard to spend the night with Tip.” The next morning, after she had to crawl under his legs to get to her office, the workmen finally took apart the door frames to transport Tip inside.

Once installed in the former dining room, alongside other taxidermied animals, including a sea lion and two hyenas, Tip was a favorite attraction for more than 25 years. Arnold said that, over the years, she “gave talks to hundreds of school children, and . . . [t]hey all went back to class and wrote me letters about how they loved the elephant.” Richard Halevy, HRM trustee and former Director of Government Relations, said, “I first saw Tip in the early 50s when I was 7–10 years old. I remember it was exciting to see an elephant inside a house! I also recall the many other dead things around him. Creepy, but fun at the same time.”

Tip left the Museum in 1956, creating space for another source of excitement for adults as well as children: our first planetarium. The planetarium and the public’s interest in astronomy and the space program expanded, eventually outgrowing Glenview. The Museum’s first fully-designed planetarium was built as part of the 1969 wing. Today, the HRM Planetarium is a state-of-the-art facility featuring live shows such as The Sky Tonight, quality recorded shows, and even cutting-edge music performances as part of our Music Under the Dome series.