The Elegant Elephant
In 1944 Container Corporation of America / Rand McNally published their first Slottie Toys Book. The Elegant Elephant tells the hilarious story of Eddie, a little jungle elephant who tried to become elegant enough to join the circus. The book was illustrated by Susanne Suba.
Slottie toys books had an extra feature. Slottie toys of Eddie and his mother could be punched out from the back of the book.
B R I N G U S T O L I F E !
… To make the Slottie Elephants come to life just press out the pieces and fit them together snugly. And lo and behold, there are Eddie and his mother come straight from circusland to play with you! They can act out the Elegant Elephant story, they can do all sorts of circus stunts (like riding on each other's back or balancing on their trunks), or they can just stand around and look handsome for you and your friends.
You can make the big elephant look gay or sad by letting her stick up her trunk and point her tail up in the air. You can turn her head to one side or the other. The ears can hang down or fold back or stand up proudly.
Susanne Suba gets the first book stamped with Eddie's Autograph. Behind her stands Rose Haller Harbaugh, head of the book section of Marshall Fields Department store, where the autograph party was being held.
The real Eddie the Elephant went to Marshall Field's to autograph 'his' book The Elegant Elephant. No longer a baby elephant (as he had been in his biography), but a seven-foot high adult male elephant was freighted up to Marshall Field's Book Department. There he did circus tricks, autographed books with a rubber stamp, and begged for candy bars. It was then that he refused to enter the freight elevator.
How does anyone get a recalcitrant elephant out of the store?
Midway through World War II and during my sophomore year at Hyde Park High in Chicago, I worked part-time as a wrapper in the hat department at Marshall Fields. To this day, I recall the pleasure that I always felt upon entering the magical transition with a swoosh of the revolving doors from the din of State Street into the hush that enveloped me like a genteel cloak. Genteel and urban – that was Marshall Fields! It was the very last place that one would expect to encounter an elephant.
One afternoon, while I was enshrouding in tissue and cardboard a $350 mink hat for the wife of Judge “Much Money,” a coworker breathlessly ran up to me and said, “You gotta see it, you gotta see it. There’s a baby elephant on three! His name is Eddie, and he’s autographing books called Eddie the Elephant in the Children’s Book Department.” “Well now, that makes sense,” I retorted, putting the finishing flourish to the package containing Madame Much Money’s trifle. Grabbing my purse, I headed for the book department on three.
A sizeable crowd, held back by a rope barrier encircling the spectacle, overflowed the cleared area and spilled over into adjacent aisles. Somewhere in front of me, a woman exclaimed, “Isn’t he adorable? Why he’s just a baby!” Another, probably her companion, marveled,” Isn’t it clever how he holds that stamp in his trunk?” Aha, I thought, so that’s how it’s done. Wiggling my way into the crowd, I had intriguing glimpses of Eddie. I finally made my way up to see him actually autographing books. Meticulously, almost daintily in contrast to his bulk, and with quizzical aplomb, he performed his literary routine of clasping the stamp in his trunk and pressing it unerringly upon the flyleaf of each open book that an assistant placed on the table. I watched in amazement. The handler announced that Eddie must leave as he had an engagement elsewhere that evening.
I followed Eddie and his entourage on their way toward the freight elevator. Although I long overextended my coffee break, I had to see Eddie leave. As Eddie stopped in front of the yawning elevator, I pushed forward to see what was going on. During the ride up, it seems Eddie had developed an instinctive aversion toward that contraption. Either that or, as one whit quipped, “Maybe Eddie’s fallen in love with the literary life and doesn’t want to leave.” There was considerable laughter, and even the frustrated handlers turned and smiled as they went into a brief huddle. Breaking out of the huddle, the handlers turned Eddie around and tried to back him into the elevator. But an elephant with his mind made up, even if he was a baby, said no! Eddie appeared to be growing more and more incensed with the handler’s persistent tugging and prodding.
Alerted by Eddie’s ominously lowered head and shuffling feet, I edged myself backwards into the crowd. Eddie’s handlers were struggling to hold him back, and I glanced around frantically for some possible avenue of escape. At that moment, Eddie bolted and the spangled pendant between his eyes glittered malevolently, as he headed straight at me! The crowd surged back, and I, twisting frantically around, flung myself into an adjacent aisle, tripped and fell in a face-down sprawl on top of someone who had been unfortunate enough to precede me, but who, fortunately for me, cushioned my fall. Looking over my shoulder, I saw no adorable baby elephant but an amok mammoth boom by on four massively thumping feet, missing my toes by scant inches. A stirring beneath me brought me to my senses. I scrambled awkwardly off my involuntary fall breaker and, with the support of a counter, managed to regain my feet. One leg was beginning to smart from a nasty scrape just below my knee, and both stockings were ruined. It was a toss-up which pained me more, the scrape or the sight of those ruined stockings. Whew, that was close! “Are you all right, miss?” Turing my head, I looked into the concerned eyes of a man old enough to be my father. Mussed hair and an askew tie were the only visible signs that he had cushioned my fall. In the face of his polite concern, I felt a wreck and tried to compose myself, but the image of our joint headlong sprawl and its absurd intimacy defeated me. I stammered “I… think so, sorry, sorry, are you okay?” Flustered, I looked around and saw absolute bedlam left in Eddie’s wake. Dazed, disheveled people were emerging from behind counters and adjacent aisles.
One woman on all fours was retrieving the miscellany spilt from her purse. Another was hobbling around looking for a lost shoe. “Good Lord, how did she manage that,” a man exclaimed in an awed tone, looking up over my head. I glanced around, raised my eyes and gasped. There, just under the lofty ceiling, a woman with tailored skirt and jacket, pill-box hat askew on her head, clung to the rungs of the iron maintenance ladder affixed to one of the massive pillars. It was such an incongruous sight to see a dowager type in that plight, that I laughed. With our pillar-scaling grandma safely aground, I went in search of our department runaway. Following an obvious trail, led me to the candy department. I found him.
He had succumbed to a sweet tooth – or sweet tusk, as one punster put it. A counter display of Field’s Choice Chocolates, Frango Mints, and mixed nuts, stopped Edie cold, proving the appeal of sweet blandishments. He munched away happily until corralled by his handlers and led away. I heard later that Eddie was barricaded in a corner of the Oriental rug department which was then closed to the public for the remainder of the day. That night, a ramp was built down the service stairs. Eddie, of course, missed his evening engagement. Back in “Wrapping,” after returning from the medical department, where my leg was treated and bandaged, my co-worker said, “About time. What did you think about Eddie the elephant?” “They say elephants never forget. Well I’ll tell you something: I’ll never forget this day.”
In 1947 Marshall Field introduced a book for children. As an added attraction at the book signing, Eddie the Elephant made an appearance. The seventh floor Tea Room even had a special menu for children that day done in the shape of an elephant. Of course, all that happened after the signing was over turned out to be quite a story, long to be remembered by those involved.
Early in the afternoon of the book signing Gerry Bergen, Personnel Vice President, and I were in the office of Bill Street, General Manager, quietly discussing a personnel matter. Suddenly the office door burst open and Austin Graves, Operations Manager, rushed in exclaiming, "Eddie the Elephant just got loose on the third floor!" All three of us were amazed that an elephant was even in the building. Bill regained his composure first and asked, "What? An elephant? An elephant is loose on the third floor of Marshall Field?" Austin was just as amazed that we did not know about the appearance of Eddie the Elephant in the Book Section for the book signing. In a firm voice Bill said, "Let's all calm down. Austin will explain just exactly why an elephant is loose on the third floor. I know nothing about this elephant and am very curious to learn the details."
"Well," said Austin, " the signing was over and the handlers took her – for some reason that I do not know she is called Eddie – to the freight elevator. They were backing her in the elevator and she accidentally hit the control. Eddie was so startled that she charged out of the elevator straight into a room full of mothers and children. Fortunately, no one was hurt. There was just a lot of confusion but that scared Eddie even more. In her panic, she escaped into the Rug Department. Thank goodness the fire doors are down now so the elephant is contained in the middle Wabash Room." Bill called his secretary and instructed her to telephone Charlie Hunter in the Gun Department. Bill was an avid hunter and had been on several African safaris so he knew exactly how to instruct Charlie. "Meet me in the 3rd floor Rug Department with an elephant gun and plenty of ammo." On the other end of the telephone Charlie was evidently completely flabbergasted so Bill had to repeat himself. "Yes, a real live elephant is loose in the Rug Department. I am going there right now so meet me there."
When we arrived at the Rug Department, sure enough there was a real elephant sitting quietly on a pile of Oriental rugs. Dick Chapin and Harry Steere from the maintenance department were also there, both staring in amazement at Eddie. Charlie soon arrived with the elephant gun and ammunition which he handed to Bill. If the elephant charged, Bill would have to kill her. Since this was a possibility, Bill was concerned about whether the floor would support the weight of the elephant if she was killed and fell. Would the floor hold or would the elephant fall through to the second floor China Department? No one knew the answer but Harry Steere offered a suggestion. Since there were heavy timbers in the 3rd basement wood working shop, perhaps ramps could be built down the stairs to the first floor. Then the trainer could lead Eddie down the ramps to the first floor and out of the store. Bill thought that was a good idea. The timbers were ordered and construction of the ramp quickly began.
Construction of the ramps was a big undertaking complicated by the fact that there were platforms in the stairwells between each of the three floors. However, Eddie's trainer was confident that the elephant would walk down the ramps so everyone worked as fast as he could. Even so, it was dark by the time the project was completed. Then, everyone waited anxiously to see if Eddie would cooperate and go down the ramps. If so, all would work out okay.
The journey started - the trainer, Eddie the Elephant, Bill Street, fully armed, Austin, Graves and I and, of course, Chapin and Steer, proceeded slowly down the ramp. When we finally reached the first floor, we found out that the Randolph Street door was too narrow. So, the procession turned and moved through the store to the Wabash Avenue entrance. That door was wide enough. Eddie was finally safely outside where a large van waited. As Eddie began her ascent up a ramp into the van, the scene was observed by two inebriated men across the street. One of the men noticed Eddie and started to run up the street. As he did, he shouted to his companion, "Run for your life - the elephants are coming."
Believe it or not, this is a true story. Beebe Sise, Susie's sister, has a friend in Connecticut who was at the lunch preceding the book signing and Eddie's appearance. When Dan, Beebe's husband, repeated the story he had heard from me, she laughed and said that it was true because she was nine years old and was there. She had also saved the menu all these years and loaned it to Beebe who loaned it to me.
Eddie Elephant has a party
Andrew McNally, President of Rand McNally & Company, Chicago, looks on as Rose Oller Harbaugh, head of Marshall Fields & Company's book department sign the contract for the publication of her new jevenile book, EDDIE ELEPHANT HAS A PARTY, which Rand McNally will bring out this fall. The book, which will be illustrated by Susanne Suba, will tell the story of the famous autograph party held at Field's at which a circus elephant was the guest of honour.