Lotus, a Nile hippo, weighed 4,800 pounds and traveled with the circus for 42 years. Unlike earlier circus hippos, she was not billed as “the blood-sweating Behemoth of Holy Writ” (a reference to the Bible, Job 40:15-24) but rather was a docile female with the disposition of an overweight Golden Retriever. She was acquired by Gollmar Brothers around 1912 and sold to the Al G. Barnes Circus in 1919, where she pulled a small cart around in each performance. She toured into the 1940s, wintered in Sarasota, Florida, and died there in 1954.
The career of a circus animal is ephemeral, but Lotus was immortalized, circa 1937, by an equally ephemeral photographer, Bob Wallace, who shot Lotus “fore and aft.” Subject and photographer had the good fortune to have their images collected by the George Eastman House, the world’s foremost museum of photography, in Rochester, N.Y.