How Uncle Maurice Saved the Smithsonian Elephant

Unveiling of Fénykövi Elephant at the National Museum of Natural History, March 6, 1959, SIA

There's no doubt that Washington, D.C. is a great place to raise kids. And one of the primary reasons why is the wide array of Smithsonian museums that are only a subway ride away. It's no wonder that regular visits to the National Mall have been an important part of our family's culture and history since the early 1970's. And part of that history has been the story of "how Uncle Maurice helped bring the elephant to the National Museum of Natural History."

Tweet sent by Jacob Harris, 11/12/2014.

So it was no surprise that our son, Jacob Harris, casually tweeted about the family story recently. The bigger surprise was the follow-up communications with Effie Kapsalis, and the rest of the Smithsonian Archives team. After a thorough search of the Smithsonian's Archives, Effie's team quickly uncovered a cache of communications from the Hungarian gentleman, Joseph J. Fénykövi, who actually hunted and killed the elephant in Angola, and the U.S. consulate employee who took possession of the skinned trophy and arranged for its transfer and transportation to the Smithsonian headquarters. What was missing from this trove of evidence was any mention of our eccentric uncle, Maurice Fogler, or any other evidence that might support the family legend. Effie and her colleagues were gentle but firm in suggesting that the only way our legend could be true is if Uncle Maurice were a friend with the Hungarian hunter or connected to the State Department. A call from Jake (Jacob) seeking further details of the elephant legend led to a thorough search of our family archives (actually just a cardboard box of genealogy files) and a phone call to Jake's 96-year-old grandmother (Maurice's sister) to uncover the 1994 transcript of an oral history interview with Uncle Maurice that confirmed the legend:

Oral history transcript of interview with Maurice Fogler. 

So the Hungarian and Angola connections provided the missing links between Uncle Maurice and the Smithsonian Fenykovi elephant and other parts of the oral history confirmed the State Department connection.  Along the way, Effie and her team filled us in on some interesting new facts about the name of the elephant, its age, how it was stuffed, and a prior bullet wound in the elephant’s left knee. And the oral history uncovered some interesting facts about Uncle Maurice's stint as a bullfighter in training with the legendary bullfighter Manolete. Now when Jacob recounts the family legend to his kids, Alex and Miranda, on their visits to see the elephant he can add that the legend has been confirmed by additional evidence provided by he Smithsonian archivists. There’s no doubt that Washington, D.C. is a great place to raise grandkids. 

Front row: Esther and Jacob Fogler. Back row: Lillian Fogler Harris, Edward Fogler, Edith Fogler Kl

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