Babe, the elephant favored and feared at Toledo Zoo

When Louie the elephant attacked and severely injured a Toledo zoo keeper last summer(2010), it wasn’t the first time a Toledo Zoo employee had been the victim of such violent pachyderm behavior.

On June 13th of 1914, the popular Babe, the elephant, attacked and killed a Walbridge Park zookeeper as hundreds of people watched and gasped  in horror.  Babe was a giant of an elephant having been purchased for about $1800 dollars in donations, from an exotic animal rancher in Missouri in 1912. It didn’t take long for Babe to become very popular with zoo goers of all ages and the park even offered rides for kids on his back.

In fact on that fateful Sunday in 1914,  elephant handler Louis Scherer (for whom Louie the elephant is named) was in the process of putting a saddle on the five ton Babe as hundreds of children and their parents were lined up and waiting. According to a Toledo News Bee article Scherer and animal feeder,  Michael Raddatz, 50, were trying to get Babe to move when Raddatz slapped Babe across the trunk with a leather strap.

That move apparently triggered the violent reaction. According to the News Bee account,

Quick as a flash, Babe swung his trunk and knocked Raddatz to the ground. Before the terrified crowd of men women and children, Babe continued his attack on Raddatz and gored him, inflicting injuries to his chest and abdomen that proved fatal a half hour later.”

Louis Scherer said it all happened very fast. “In the twinkling of an eye”, said Scherer, who pulled Babe’s head away with a hook and led him away to the barn, a the crowd scattered and screamed in panic.

After the tragedy, there were some suggestions that Babe be destroyed, but the Park Commissioners did not even consider that option, but instead voted to no longer offer rides on the big pachyderm.

Meanwhile, for the Raddatz family, who lived in the 1200 block of Buckingham, the death apparently caused great economic hardship as the zoo worker left a widow and several stepchildren to fend for themselves. There was some compensation, but not much by today’s standards.  Raddatz had been making 55 dollars a month as an animal feeder,  and under a new state workers’ compensation law in 1914, the family could be offered up to 2/3rd of his salary, but no more than 12 dollars a week.  I have been unable to determine how much they ended up receiving or how they fared in the years after.

For Babe, life would remain much the same. He would live at the Toledo Zoo for another three decades, claiming a title as the largest elephant in captivity and continuing his reign as the”King” of the Toledo Zoo until his death in 1943.  In fact, even when Babe was “put down” after a severe stroke in October of 1943, the big pachyderm would play a role in the war effort.  His giant five ton carcass was rendered for glycerin to be used to help make ammunition.


Side note: In the Toledo Blade article of 1943 detailing what would happen to Babe’s body, it reported that Zoo officials planned to display his skull in the Museum of Science at the zoo. Did that ever occur. Do you remember that? I don’t, but I’ll ask around. Wonder if they still have it?



Filed under Old Places and Faces

4 responses to “Babe, the elephant favored and feared at Toledo Zoo

  1. Sandra Yeager Spiropoulos

    Thank you for this interesting, sad story. Does anyone know what killed the elephant Jose? I belong to a Toledo group on Facebook, and someone posted a news article about his death. The article mentions that it was “the beet” that killed the elephant. We’re trying to determine if beets could have killed him, or if this was a typo.

    Thank you.

    • I will check on that and get back to you.

    • From a November 18th, 1951 Toledo Blade feature article on former Zoo director, Frank Skeldon, it said that Jose, who was purchased from Ringling Brothers Circus for $2500, in about 1905, was the star of the Zoo, until she “choked to death on a sugar beet”. So apparently, it was not a typo. Sugar beets can get rather large, so it does seem possible that an elephant could choke on one.

      • Sandra Yeager Spiropoulos

        Thank YOU!! I really appreciate you taking your time to follow-up on this! I found the Blade article, and have shared the information with the group! If you’re interested, the group on Facebook is “Toledo History & Nostalgia Grab Bag”. If you’re not already a member, I’m sure you would be a welcome addition!

        Sandi 🙂

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