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Searching For Elephant Bones

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Sometimes, stories are just stories. But historian Mark Stoffer Hunter hopes that some of the stories he heard years ago about an elephant being buried at the site of Cedar Rapids' old public works building will turn out to have some truth to them. Back when the public works department was still at its original site along 6th Street Southwest, it housed historical archives, Hunter heard those stories.

"Over the years, we would have people visit us at our public open houses and remind me that there had been circuses there when they were younger children," Hunter told us.

He said Cedar Rapids was a popular stop for traveling circuses, because of its connection to the railroad.

"They remembered distinctly one incident in which the circus came to town, an elephant died while the circus was at that location, and they had no other choice but to bury it on the site," Hunter recalled.

There's even a small mention of the supposed burial in a small section of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, more than 20 years ago.

"They remembered digging a large hole at the site, and watching the elephant's body being placed in the hole, and that's all we have to go on," Hunter said. Now that the site is being dug up, Hunter told us there's a chance that workers may find something.

The only problem: he says nobody's really sure when the pachyderm was buried, or exactly where.

Just to the south of the public works building's original site is the new building. Some city employees believe that's where the elephant was buried, in which case it would be covered up. However, Hunter hopes it's still out there somewhere, waiting to be discovered.

He said sometimes, stories just turn out to be stories, passed down through generations of families.

"But what gets my interest is when there are several people from the same generation who will relate the same story, and they don't know each other. Then there's enough interest to generate some sort of historic investigation," Hunter told us.