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'Jumbo in a Jar' a lasting tribute

Posted by Alix Roy  June 11, 2010 10:04 AM

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Jumbo.jpg

Sarah Binns

Filmmaker Chelsea Spears collaborated with animator Sarah Winifred Searle in her latest short, "Jumbo in a Jar."

When the Barnum Building at Tufts University burned to the ground in 1975, it took with it the taxidermied remains of Barnum's favorite elephant, Jumbo. A jar of the famed elephant’s ashes was recovered by the sports department and became a good luck charm for Tufts sports teams, who would rub the jar before every game.

At least, that's how Peter Kearin told it.

The former Tufts sports information director first told the story to Sports Illustrated, and although he later claimed to have forgotten about the tale, it stuck.

Kearin’s daughter, Medford filmmaker Chelsea Spear, still remembers the phone conversation when her father told the reporter, "Here’s a story you’ll never believe." She was 6 at the time.

Years later, after Kearin passed away from pancreatic cancer, Spear decided to research the tale for a short film competition. She interviewed former athletic director Rocky Carzo and read up on Jumbo’s history. The resulting 3-minute film, entitled, "Jumbo in a Jar," brings the story – real or imagined – to life.

In the film, clips of the interview are mixed in with animated scenes showing the discovery of the ashes and old photographs of the Tufts campus. Spear had originally planned to cast live actors to play her father and other characters but decided to pair up with animator Sarah Winifred Searle instead. The result was an organic “scribbly” look that appealed to her "primitive" artistic style, she said. 

"It fell together in lots of ways," she said on Thursday.

Spear entered the film in WGBH Lab's competition a few days before her father’s birthday, a time she still finds difficult, she said. Although the film’s final cut contains few references to her father, Spear still considers the work a tribute to his memory.

"I thought it would be a nice way to honor him," she said.

If enough comments are generated on the film, Spear hopes to see the short aired on WGBH this fall. To view and comment on the film, click here.



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