I just found this on the net (see what you get if you can search) now we have 2 explainations. Can anyone futher back up either of these?It seems that in the early part of the April of 1861, the Shah of Persia visited President Abraham Lincoln in Washington DC, and, as has always been the custom of the Persians, the Shah brought a gift.
No, not gold, nor frankincense, nor even myrrh, but a rare white elephant.
It seems the white elephant was received in Washington with some enthusiasm, and there was a bitter struggle in the President’s cabinet over who would get to be the keepers of the beautiful beast.
After some time and debate, the State Department won the right to house and care for the elephant. However, the huge pet’s welcome wore short fairly quickly when it was recognized that she could only eat and survive on the leaves of a specific tree that grew in Persia, and a tree which did not take kindly to life in the United States.
Needless to say, the supply of leaves brought over on the ship for the gift’s intake did not last too long. Now importing leaves from Persia became quite an expensive and ritualistic ordeal, and was quite costly to the State Department’s budget.
And so… when the War Department had a huge celebration after a particularly long and bitter battle that ended in victory for the Union, as a gift, the State Department bequeathed to them the white elephant.
The elephant spent little time at the War Department, however, and she was very quickly shuttled to the Smithsonian, then to the Department of Justice, and we are given to understand, back to the State Department, prior to her moving on to the Department of Treasury, then back to the Smithsonian, the War Department, the Vice President’s office, and the State Department.
This beautiful creature became a symbol of things we have, but don’t really want, a symbol of things we give to one another, that we find either useless, or more costly than they are worth, so pass on and on.
I do not know what finally became of the elephant, there is little mention of her in history after her move back to the State Department, where she started… but she is a part of American folklore.
There you have it, the story of the white elephant.
Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.