8. Topsy the Elephant

Topsy the elephant at Coney Island, one of NYC's tragic famous animals
Image via Wikimedia

The tragic story of Topsy has gone down in history, thus making this elephant one of New York City’s most (posthumously) famous animals. Topsy was born in Southeast Asia around 1875 and eventually brought to the United States, where she was part of the Forepaugh Circus. In 1902, however, she was sold to Coney Island’s Sea Lion Park (redeveloped later into Luna Park).

There, she was involved in several, well-publicized incidents, which prompted her handlers to plan a public hanging and charge admission for spectators. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals strongly objected to this plan, stating that it was unnecessarily cruel. With the organization’s approval, park officials opted instead for death by poisoning, strangulation, and electrocution. On January 4, 1903, the electrocution that ultimately killed Topsy was filmed and later released for kinetoscopes. That film still exists today.