Diamond-Hungry Elephant X-rayed at Chester Park


When an elephant swallows your diamond ring, you learn either the virtue of patience or the talent of creativity.

For Colonel I.M. “Ike” Martin, the impresario in charge of Cincinnati’s Chester Park, patience was no virtue and creativity was unlimited when “Lady Lou,” an elephant performing at the park, took a shine to Colonel Martin’s diamond ring and swiped it along with a handful of peanuts. The Cincinnati Post [13 May 1908] assured readers it was not a stunt:

“The press agent did not invent this story as Manager Martin can testify. It is a simple tale of an elephant being attracted by the sparkle of a diamond while being fed peanuts, and pulling the ring off the finger with a sudden grasp of the trunk. Martin felt the ring going, saw it go down the big throat, and that’s all.”

W.W. Powers, owner of the elephant act, counseled patience, but Martin was suspicious of the elephant handlers. What if the ring popped out while they were shoveling elephant poop? Who was to stop them from pocketing the dung-covered bauble? It was worth, after all, $450 in 1908 dollars. That’s more than $11,000 in today’s currency.

Martin announced that he was docking Powers’ earnings to the tune of $450 until the ring was produced. To prove that the ring was still in Lady Lou’s stomach, Powers called up the Kelley-Koett Manufacturing Company over in Covington and had them send one of their most powerful X-ray machines. The prospect of seeing an elephant X-rayed brought out thousands of spectators to Chester Park. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer [18 May 1908] it was the first time an elephant had ever been X-rayed, but the process was not without complications:

“No thief or criminal ever objected more strongly, to being ‘mugged’ for the Rogues’ Gallery than did Lou when the attempt was made to make the X-ray pictures. At first it was necessary to allow the beast to become used to the crackling of the X-ray coil, an operation that consumed an hour. Then, when she was induced to lie down upon the plateholder and the Crooke’s tubes held over the first section of her body, she became frightened at the glare in the tube and had to be coaxed again for another half hour.”

Lady Lou, trained elephant of the W.W. Powers performing troupe, lies in Chester Park as she is x-rayed on 17 May 1908 by Newport's Kelley-Koett Manufacturing Company
Lady Lou, trained elephant of the W.W. Powers performing troupe, lies in Chester Park as she is x-rayed on 17 May 1908 by Newport’s Kelley-Koett Manufacturing Company

From Leslie's Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, June 4, 1908; Image extracted from PDF by Greg Hand

Meanwhile, as you may have surmised, the entire audience was being dosed with unshielded X-rays. The process went on for more than six hours, from noon until 6:15 p.m. Just as the crew calmed Lou into lying flat on the film plates, some piece of machinery gave the poor elephant a shock.

“She gave an ear-piercing trumpet and leaped to her feet. Only the quickest movements on the part of the operators saved the expensive machinery from wreckage. The crowd, which numbered several thousand, stampeded and ran through the park in all directions.”

Despite the traumatic medical procedure, Lou went on with her act that day. The Powers elephants were famous over several decades for their elaborately trained routines. The high point of Lady Lou’s role was acting wounded in a battle scene, but bravely picking up and marching away with a Red Cross flag.

While Martin and Powers waited for the X-ray results, a Chester Park neighbor had an idea. Chester Park was located off Spring Grove Avenue just up the road from the cemetery. A few blocks away, on McMakin Avenue in Winton Place, lived a young doctor named J. Wilson Loughry. Although Doctor Loughry was a modern physician – he had graduated from UC’s Ohio Medical College just seven years earlier – he thought an old-fashioned treatment might find that ring quicker than X-rays.He prescribed a stomach pump. According to The Cincinnati Post [19 May 1908]:

“Dr. Loughry’s theory was that the ring must still be in the stomach. This being granted, it only required the pumping out of the contents to produce the ring.”

Martin and Powers agreed. Lou performed her evening act and was then induced to drink as much sweetened water as she could hold. Loughry coated a length of hose with glycerin and sugar and fed that into Lou’s greedy maw. She swallowed more than four feet of hose and Doctor Loughry attached the other end to a pump manufactured for bailing rowboats. Within seconds, the pump stopped because something was blocking the hose. It was, indeed, Colonel Martin’s $450 diamond ring.

“The family doctor has triumphed over modern science,” trumpeted The Cincinnati Post.

At least Doctor Loughry didn’t spray all the bystanders with radiation.

This article was reposted with permission from Greg Hand, editor of Cincinnati Curiosities

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