Deal Me In, Week 9 ~ “The Tears of Squonk”


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Tears of Squonk, and What Happened Thereafter” by Glen David Gold

Card picked: Three of Clubs

From: McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, edited by Michael Chabon


“The Tears of Squonk” is the sad tale of the Nash Family Circus. Under the utterly honest leadership of Ridley Nash (he inwardly winces when referred to as “Colonel” Nash since he never served in the military), the ragtag circus had traveled the US for 23 years before ending up in Olson, Tennessee in March of 1916. Olson is a quiet railroad town. Gold assures us “it was not at all a place for murder.”

Squonk is Joseph Bales, a European-educated clown and the trainer of Mary the Elephant. Mary and Squonk are the circus’s main draw, though Bales has always warned that Mary hates horses. Horses will send her into a frenzy. And this is exactly what happens when Mary spots Timothy Phelps atop his horse as the circus parades through Olson. Mary attacks and kills Phelps rather gruesomely. The town wants justice and Bales has a suggestion: hang Mary using the railroad yard’s derrick.

Nash knows his circus is pretty much sunk without Mary. In fact, he still owes $6500 on his purchase of Squonk and Mary’s contract. He also knows that this is the only thing he can possibly do to make things right with the town. They hang Mary the Elephant and Bales disappears.

The Nash Circus continues to limp along, but Ridley Nash is a changed man. He’s subtly less honest–he doesn’t even protest when the seal trainer, his newest act, insists that his charges are college educated. Nash heads to California alone to scout out new acts and is approached by an ex-railway detective. Mary and Bales may not have been who they seemed to be. Was Mary an insane elephant? Or was she just the tool of an evil man?

This story is based on a bizarre true event. Mary was an elephant who attacked and killed an inexperienced trainer during a parade through Kingsport, TN in 1916. The circus owner, Charlie Sparks, decided that public execution was the solution and Mary was hung in the Clinchfield Railroad yard. This might only be considered folklore if not for a photograph of the event. (via Wikipedia)

Previously: Carter Beats the Devil was one of my top reads a couple years back and a story by Glen David Gold was definitely a reason this anthology caught my eye. Gold seems to have a talent for setting historical fiction slightly askew to reality, which I really envy.

3 thoughts on “Deal Me In, Week 9 ~ “The Tears of Squonk”

  1. Pingback: Deal Me In 2015 – Week 9 Wrap Up | Bibliophilopolis

  2. Jay

    What an interesting story! I’d never heard of it, or the author before. Remarkable that it’s based on a true event too. Poor Mary… (poor ‘inexperienced trainer’ too, of course!)

    I have a “circus story” coming up in my reading local project. A novel called “The Circus in Winter” by Cathy Day. There’s a town in Indiana (“Peru,” I think) that has a long history of traveling circuses ‘wintering’ there. I assume that’s where the title comes from, but will have to find out when I read it.

    1. Katherine Nabity Post author

      I look forward to hearing about The Circus in Winter. I’m intrigued by the off-season for seasonal acts.

      I have Glen David Gold’s Sunnyside on my TBR stack, with Charlie Chaplin as a character. Haven’t gotten to it yet, but I’m excited for it again.


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