Office Treasures: Jumbo Stampede

Their CVs tell one story, but the things professors surround themselves with tell another

Enrico Spolaore with many little elephants

In this continuing series, we visit the office of Enrico Spolaore, professor of economics in the School of Arts and Sciences.

The first was from his wife: a small white ceramic elephant she saw in Venice the summer before he began teaching at Tufts. Later he bought a black elephant, its trunk held aloft. Soon friends, relatives and colleagues began adding to economist Enrico Spolaore’s herd. Now there are more than 50 pachyderms prancing along the shelves of his office, an olio of style, color, shape and geography.

Jumbo the elephant is, of course, Tufts’ mascot. His connection with Tufts dates back to 1885, when circus showman P.T. Barnum, an early Tufts trustee, donated the real elephant’s stuffed hide to the university after the animal was killed in a train accident. Jumbo most likely got his name from jumbe, the Swahili word for chief. The original Jumbo the elephant was popular with children, who eagerly begged to ride him at the Regent’s Park zoo in London, before he embarked on his circus career.

Spolaore’s economics department colleagues keep an eye out for elephants on their travels: Associate Professor Margaret McMillan found one made of wire in Botswana, while Assistant Professor Emilia Simeonova brought him a glass elephant from Sweden, and Associate Professor Edward Kutsoati gave him one from Ghana.

He has elephant instruments: a Peruvian elephant-shaped flute and an orange maraca-like elephant shaker. And there are elephants made of materials you might not expect: a bobble-head elephant made from a coconut shell and a knitted one from Kenya.

“The elephant is a symbol of Tufts, but it also shows Tufts’ global nature,” says Spolaore. “I was just reading a history of the Punic Wars and how Hannibal used elephants in an effort to intimidate the enemy and charge opposing troops. But they are likeable animals, animals for which we can feel affection.”

He treasures every one. “My elephants, well, they’re beautiful,” he says. “Elephants are very strong animals, but they’re not predators. If you leave them alone, they won’t hurt anything.”

Although he sees his collection every day and has even more at home, Spolaore still has one Jumbo wish: “I’ve never seen an elephant in the wild. That’s the one thing I would like to see.”

Marjorie Howard can be reached at

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