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No half measures: The elephant who sank pints at Aberdeen’s Pittodrie Bar

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It probably wasn’t surprising that many viewers were left perplexed when they sat down to watch Harvey in cinema houses in 1950.

After all, this was a film whose hero’s best friend was a six-foot invisible white rabbit and whose sister tried to have him committed to an asylum.

And audiences were further taken aback by the star being James Stewart, who was, at that stage of his career, most famous for wholesome movies such as Mr Smith Goes To Washington and It’s A Wonderful Life.

Screen icon James Stewart.
Screen icon James Stewart.

Yet two years earlier, in Aberdeen, there must have been a few pub punters who were ready to sign the pledge or join a temperance society after the events of an extraordinary afternoon in the city.

Because, let’s face it, how often do you pop down to your favourite local and discover an elephant having a pint outside the door?

The mahout intervened in time

It was a balmy late July in the city when the story made a Jumbo-sized impression on the patrons at the Pittodrie Bar.

Their football heroes were taking a break so there was nothing else to do except savour the sunshine.

But then, suddenly, their world was rocked and a report in the Press & Journal conveyed some of the astonishment which was felt by those who witnessed the incident.

The Pittodrie Bar made headlines while Aberdeen FC's heroes were taken a pre-season break.
The Pittodrie Bar made headlines while Aberdeen FC’s heroes were taken a pre-season break.

It stated: “Aberdeen police might have had to become big-game hunters yesterday if an Indian mahout had not said ‘enough’.

“He and his elephant from a visiting circus were having a stroll along King Street in the midday heat when they decided to make a quick stop.

“The Indian popped into the Pittodrie Bar for a refresher, leaving his companion outside and that was when word spread in the area.”

Predictably, this strange sight piqued the interest of the public and a large group of residents gradually formed and gingerly approached the elephant.

“Less sensibly, some of the throng thought it would be a good idea to wet its whistle by purchasing him an alcoholic drink – or two or three.

And suddenly, the creature found itself at the heart of a giant booze-up.

The African elephant found itself at the centre of a booze-up outside the pub.

The paper added: “After the crowd gathered, somebody suggested giving him a pint to drink.

“Two men ‘stood their hands’ (bought a round) and Jumbo soon polished off a couple of pints with relish.

“Other bystanders then wanted to refill the tumbler again, but the mahout reappeared and put in a timely word, indicating that it wouldn’t be sensible.

“(As he pointed out) Otherwise, Aberdeen police might have had to find a cell somewhere to house an unusual ‘drunk’ last night.”

If this had happened even 20 years later, somebody would have had a camera to take pictures of the occasion, while nowadays, that creature would swiftly have become the most famous elephant in the world on social media.

Other beasts on the loose in Aberdeen

But there again, we don’t have animals in circuses any more and the majority of people agree with that.

Not that the Granite City hadn’t had interaction with other formidable beasts down the years.

In fact, there were at least two memorable cases of rampaging bulls causing an almighty scene in the first half of the 20th Century.

And one of these, from October 1947, provided a shock for people working in the Aberdeen Harbour area when the bull suddenly emerged from the water.

The Pittodrie Bar has welcomed many famous visitors over the years.
The Pittodrie Bar has welcomed many famous visitors over the years.

The Evening Express said: “The bull broke clear from a herd of cattle being unloaded from the (ship) St Rognvald when it arrived from Kirkwall.

“Without any hesitation, the animal dived off the quay into the water and swam across the harbour.

“Reaching the slipways of the shipbuilding firm of Messrs A Hall & Co, it left the water and picked its way through the shipyard before moving on to reach York Street.

“The shipyard workers were too astonished at the sight of a bull rising from the water to make any effort to try to capture it.

“But the animal then made its way along the Beach promenade and was quietly awaiting capture in a field in Seaton when the cattlemen overtook it.”

That was one great escape with a happy outcome for all concerned, and there was a similar freakish episode for residents to marvel at in 1913.

This was one persistent creature

Aberdeen – praise be – is never in any danger of being confused with Pamplona, but this truly was a concerted bid for freedom by a determined ancestor of Angus the Bull – the official mascot of Aberdeen FC.

Headlined “A Bull Chase Through City”, the P&J revealed the gruelling¬† journey of one feisty creature that refused to be stopped in its tracks.

A picture of a bull in a china shop
Thankfully the bull in Aberdeen didn’t end up entering a china shop during his freedom bid.

It said: “Shortly after five o’clock, a bull being taken to the Mart bolted southwards along Clifton Road.

“Despite efforts to check its progress, the animal continued to run along George Street and, followed by an excited crowd, climbed the Upperkirkgate to Broad Street.

“Through Queen Street, it entered King Street and careered along the latter thoroughfare in the direction of Bridge of Don.

“All the bids to arrest the runaway were useless and, apparently not in any way fatigued by its three-mile canter, it reached the bridge and descended to the river bank.

“Then, speeding alongside the water, followed by parties of pursuers, the bull entered the sea at the mouth of the river.

“A policeman and three salmon fishermen went after the animal in a cobble, but failed to secure it with a rope.

“Then, coming ashore, the bull once again bounded away along the bank, beneath the bridge and sped off towards the Brig o’Balgownie.

“At last, though, near the Brig, it entered a farm steading and, when ultimately secured, was brought back to the city in a cattle float.”

The cast of the classic BBC comedy series Dad's Army.
The cast of the classic BBC comedy series Dad’s Army.

The report gives you a sense of something that might have happened in Dad’s Army, with the hapless platoon put under pressure yet again.

But, at least that raging bull enjoyed one last glorious dash before it was captured. Even if nobody was offering it pints at the finish line!

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Roll up, roll up: Do you remember when the circus came to Aberdeen?

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