Gogo's description of the Russian racing scene has the quality of a Hogarth etching. "Drawn by a sick passion," he writes, "by the temptation of quick and easy gain," the bettors cajole the drivers in an effort to get them to disclose the next fix; phony tipsters prowl the grandstand, touting a different horse to each innocent and collecting commissions from the winners. The races rob youth of time as well as money, impoverishing some to such an extent that they turn to crime. He passionately inquires, brandishing a sheaf of tearful letters, how many become drunkards at the track bars, how many lose their wives and jobs.
But perhaps the high, ruinous times at the Hippodrome are not quite as Gogo depicts them. He mounts his soap box in the name of culture, but there is an intimation that he might be, after all, only a disgruntled two-ruble bettor. "Before you bet on Nikov," Gogo warns his readers bitterly, "first find out if he is drunk or sober."
AUTUMN JUNGLE QUEEN
For good, wholesome community entertainment—safer than a bonfire, cheaper than a carnival—you can't beat a runaway elephant. At least it has worked out that way around Windham, N.Y., where a 2�-ton, 13-year-old female elephant named Siam (see page 33) ran away from home on October 16 and threw two whole counties into a delighted uproar.
Windham lies in the Catskill Mountains, which probably offer the best terrain in the United States for a circus elephant to live in quietly, temporarily retired from public life. There are roots and berries and all sorts of leaves, which elephants love. There is plenty of water. The mountains are just the right size—too high for people, no trouble at all for elephants. If Siam spotted a posse laboring up the slope toward her, she could be three valleys away by the time the men had covered a few hundred yards. ("She doesn't run, she walks," said one searcher wearily. "But man, she takes awfully long steps.")
Hundreds of people, including housewives, journalists, state troopers and schoolchildren, took to the hills to find Siam. On sunny days the woods have throbbed with search parties, and overhead a farm machinery dealer named Virgil Phinney skimmed the ridges, flying low in his Piper Cub. Whenever he spotted Siam he threw out a roll of toilet paper as a signal to the hunters on the ground. As the long streamer writhed through the autumn air, various groups converged slowly on the spot beneath it. Sometimes they just found each other; but sometimes they found Siam. When this happened nobody seemed to know what to do except watch as the elephant strolled away again over the mountains.
Mr. Phinney logged some 15 hours of flying time in his search for Siam, and probably spotted her more often than anyone else. He reports her liberty look as a fit and happy one. "You should see her slide down a mountainside. If the bushes aren't too big, she just sits down on that big, broad bottom and scoots down the slope, using her forefeet as brakes."
Siam ran away in the first place because some galloping horses frightened her. She was being led to water (along with two other cow elephants named Delhi and Bombay) by her trainer, Alfred Vidbel. Mr. Vidbel and his wife, Joyce, had settled down on a Catskill farm to train the elephants through the winter. In the summer, they travel with a circus. The Vidbels are practically the only people who took their elephant hunting seriously. Siam belongs to the circus, not to the Vidbels, and she is valued at $12,000.
"We have a phonograph record with the call of a bull elephant on one side and a hippopotamus roar on the other," said Mr. Vidbel. "So we drove a sound truck up a mountain road and played the elephant call, but we got no answer.
"Then I loaded Delhi and Bombay on their trailer and hauled them into the woods. I was sure that if Siam heard them squealing and snorting, she'd come. But no matter what I did, I couldn't get a sound out of them. They clammed up on me."