|Postcard from the Birmingham Public Archives, file # 1081.3.99|
Today would be Miss Fancy's 145th birthday.
Miss Fancy, the legendary Queen of Avondale, may be Avondale’s most famous local celebrity. She’s the cover girl for the Avondale Brewing Company, where she has a special ale named after her. A restaurant on Fifth Avenue is named Fancy’s on 5th in her honor. A current fundraising campaign is raising money to put a life-size statue of her in Avondale Park.
She is the subject of a subplot in Fannie Flagg’s novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, a short documentary Mr. Todd’s Fancy, and Miss Fancy, a play featured in Theatre Downtown’s 2016 season.
If you don’t live in Avondale or were born after 1930, you may not have heard of her, but for those old enough to remember her, Miss Fancy was beloved. Whenever my father meets people around his age from Avondale, he immediately asks if they remember Miss Fancy. They all do.
Miss Fancy (1871-1954) was a gentle Indian elephant who served as the star attraction at the Birmingham Zoo (when it was located in its original site at Avondale Park) from 1913 to 1934. She was known to routinely stroll through the streets of Avondale, Forest Park, and Woodlawn. Children loved to ride Miss Fancy; she would carry 5 to 7 on her back at a time. She sometimes visited the Avondale Elementary School, where the children would run outside to feed her their lunches. She would sometimes wander through the neighborhood eating out of her neighbors’ gardens. One little girl fondly recalled waking up to find Miss Fancy peering in her bedroom window.
My dad was 4 years old when he met Miss Fancy, shortly before the financial pressures of the Great Depression forced the city to close the zoo and sell the animals. Afterwards, he used to dream about riding an elephant all over Shades Valley. When I told him that, after a brief return to the circus, she had lived out the remainder of her life in a zoo in Buffalo, he said, “I wish I had known that when she was still alive. I would have gone to visit her. I loved that elephant so much I would have hopped on a bus to go see her.”
Mr. Todd’s Fancy is a short documentary about Miss Fancy and her trainer, John Todd.
Some of the interviews were filmed at the Avondale Library.
Read about Miss Fancy's life in Avondale through newspapers of the day at Birmingham Public Library's Digital Collections. More information about the campaign to raise money for a statue of Miss Fancy in Avondale Park is available at http://queenofavondale.com/.
Ellen Griffin Shade
Avondale Regional Branch Library