Sunday, 3 November 2013

Elephant No. 62: From the Archives—Tea Lights

Today is Diwali—the Hindu Festival of Lights, so I thought I'd re-post this entry from a couple of years ago. Enjoy!

Today it wasn't raining, snowing or windy, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to make an elephant with tea lights. The snow we had yesterday is already gone, so even the ground is reasonably dry.

Tea lights are small candles in thin metal casings, allowing the candle to melt completely when lit. They have multiple uses, including heating scented oils, warming foods, as accent and mood lighting, and even as votive candles. Each candle is supposed to be able to burn for about three to five hours. 

Modern tea lights are remarkably similar to the Hindenburg light, or hindenburglicht, which was used as a source of lighting in the German trenches of the First World War. Hindenburg lights were also used in air raid shelters in Germany during the Second World War, and were required lighting during blackouts. 

Hindenburg lights were larger than tea lights, measuring 5 to 8 cm (2 to 3 inches) in diameter and burning for several hours. The case was made of cardboard and was filled with tallow. Later models were encased in tin, and sometimes had two wicks.

Hindenburg light, ca. 1943–1945.
Photo: Patrick Götz
Collection of the Museum Geiserschmiede, Bühlertal, Germany

For today's elephant, I started by raking and sweeping the stray leaves and detritus from a flagstone area in our backyard, then let it dry out for a couple of hours.

I had 57 tea lights, so I laid them out in an elephant shape. I've never done anything like this before, so I wasn't really sure if I had too many or too few, or if they'd blow out as I was lighting them.

Sunset was at 4:20 p.m., today, so I waited until about 5:00 to light everything. Remarkably, every last tea light stayed lit, despite the light breeze that picked up while I was lighting them.

It was really pretty when it was all illuminated. I was a bit sad to blow this out, but it was too cold to hang around outside. Next time I do something like this, I'll make sure it's in the summer, so that I can sit outside for a bit and enjoy it.

Elephant Lore of the Day
John L. Sullivan, named after a famous boxer, was a tuskless male Asian elephant. Born around 1860, John L. Sullivan performed first with the Adam Forepaugh Circus in New York, and later the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

In his early career, the elephant and his trainer, Eph Thompson, performed a boxing act. A boxing glove was attached to the end of John L. Sullivan's trunk, allowing him to spar with Thompson.

Ad for the Adam Forepaugh Circus, featuring John L. Sullivan.

After he retired from performing, John L. Sullivan remained with the circus. He babysat the performers' children, led the elephant herd to and from the fairgrounds and the trains, and did heavy lifting. In 1922, in a publicity stunt honouring America's first elephant, Old Bet, John walked the 85 kilometres (53 miles) from Madison Square Garden in New York City to the Elephant Hotel in Somers, New York. When he arrived in the small town four days later, he laid a wreath at a monument dedicated to Bet.

John L. Sullivan lived to the age of 72—the average life expectancy for an elephant is 70 years—and likely died of heart failure or simple old age.

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