Off Beat: Woodland’s fertile farms also produced elephants

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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Woodland plant breeders are being celebrated for growing some of the most dazzling and fragrant garden products in the world.

Our “Weekend” section highlighted the 10th annual Woodland Tulip Festival, where visitors were delighted by acres of eye candy at Holland America Bulb Farm.

Not far away, the sweet-scented legacy of a pioneering plant breeder was celebrated when Lilac Days opened at Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens.

Interestingly enough, a quite different product of a Woodland breeder was in the regional spotlight the previous weekend. There was nothing about the focus of that celebration that was as light as a fragrance or fragile as a blossom. We’re talking about Packy the elephant.

Packy was born April 15, 1962, at the Oregon Zoo. But when Columbian reporter Eric Florip wrote about Packy’s 50th birthday party a week ago, he noted that the elephant was bred in Woodland.

And that was a reminder of a 2006 item in this space, when we looked back on the breeding operation that produced Packy.

H. Morgan Berry raised zoo and circus animals on a 76-acre farm outside Woodland.

In 1979, Berry was found dead inside an elephant pen on his farm, according to a story in The Columbian’s files. (“We are assuming the elephant mauled him,” the coroner said a few days later).

Another elephant took off from the farm the night Berry died. Thai, a four-ton bull, was tracked down the next day.

But a posse of deputies, neighbors and animal handlers from the Seattle and Portland zoos couldn’t herd Thai home, The Columbian reported.

Finally, all tuckered out from the chase, Thai plopped right down on a county road and took an afternoon nap. So did several of his pursuers.

Eventually, Thai was lured onto a flatbed trailer and trucked home.

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.