Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Information Super-Heffalump

The internet, when it first became popular, was dubbed the "information superhighway", and this is a moniker which is still used from time to time today. It's one that I occasionally question, as for every website of a newspaper or corporation, there are websites such as Facebook (which has nothing to do with "information" in the intended sense really) and YouTube (which, whilst being a great outlet for certain forms of information and entertainment, is also crammed full of crap). And then, occasionally, I find out about something that I simply wouldn't have been able to if the internet didn't exist.

A short while ago I was researching something on Wikipedia (I actually forget what that something was, but never mind, it just goes to show how gripping what I ended up finding out about was), when I came across, in the "See also" section, a link to a page about an elephant called Topsy. Topsy lived in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries and was put down after killing three people (at least one of whom seems to have been incredibly cruel to Topsy and so, in my opinion, had it coming to him). It is the method and circumstances surrounding Topsy's execution that are so fascinating. Topsy was executed by electrocution in a similar way that a person would be executed in an electric chair. But the most fascinating part of all is that Thomas Edison decided to film the execution, calling the resulting film Electrocuting An Elephant.

At this point, I was incredibly curious about the whole story, and wondered if Edison's film had made it onto YouTube. A quick search later showed me that it was not only available, produced several results of varying degrees of quality, with the best two here and here (N.B. - The film is now available to view directly on the Wikipedia page, but at the time it wasn't and it's a pretty small video, so the YouTube results are still very much worthwhile).

My morbid curiosity led me back to Wikipedia and to the stories of other executed elephants, in particular Mary, also put down for killing a person (and again, a person who treated her cruelly), who was hanged from an industrial crane. I think it's the fact that even though both Mary and Topsy's deaths happened only just over one hundred years ago, but feel so alien to anything that we would be likely to see in today's society, that make their stories so engrossing. It's almost impossible to imagine what seeing either of these events would have been like, and even watching Edison's video requires at least some suspension of disbelief for me.

In returning to these pages to write this entry, I've also come across yet another elephant-related practice that I'd never come across before either, which is almost the opposite of the previous subject: exectution by elephant, where someone is sentenced to execution through literally being crushed and gored by an elephant.

So, quite a morbid post in many ways, but why have I chosen to share all of this? Well, as I said, all of these pieces of information would have almost certainly remained unknown to me if not for the internet. I don't necessarily need to know about elephant execution, but I'm glad that it's something that I was able to find out about. In particular, I'm pleased that I've got to see a film shot by Thomas Edison, as that's pretty cool in itself. I'm fairly certain too that, without YouTube, I would never have got to see that film clip either. So sometimes, despite all the shite you have to wade through to get to it, the internet is still a superhighway of information.

Anyway, to round things off nicely with a YouTube-and-elephants flavour, and to end on something slightly less grim than elephants being killed, here's an incredibly trippy Disney clip:

1 comment:

Hanspan said...

Dumbo and Timothy are ON DRUGS!