1. A child who growed.
2. An elephant who was electrocuted.

"I spect I grow'd. Don't think nobody never made me."

One of the most misquoted characters in fiction, used by people who don't know where she came from (though nor did she), but have heard that she "just grew" or "just growed" or "just growed and growed". The misquotation is often presented as if she growed huge, or uncontrollably. The correct context is that she probably growed like a plant, without having been made. And there's no "just" in it, and no great size.

Topsy is a Black slave girl in Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. In its own day it was one of the most read books in the world, and the allusion to Topsy would have been familiar to almost everyone who heard it. Now, it has escaped from context, and growed. Chapter 20 is entitled TOPSY.

She is about eight or nine, an uneducated and untamed ragamuffin. The reforming St. Clare gives her to the reforming Ophelia as a practical gift for her to reform. Ophelia is a bit taken aback, but begins to catechize her new charge as to her previous existence. She finds the girl knows almost nothing about it.

"Have you ever heard anything about God, Topsy?"

The child looked bewildered, but grinned as usual.

"Do you know who made you?"

"Nobody, as I knows on," said the child, with a short laugh.

The idea appeared to amuse her considerably; for her eyes twinkled, and she added,

"I spect I grow'd. Don't think nobody never made me."

That's one edition of the book. Perhaps Stowe had other versions with 'just' in them, or 'never was borned', or some such, but more likely these versions proliferated in adaptations. For example, there is a 1910 Edison cylinder of part of this episode staged:
OPHELIA: Stand still! How old are you, Topsy?

TOPSY: I dunno.

OPHELIA: Don't know how old you are! How shiftless! Who was your mother?

TOPSY: Mother? Never had none.

OPHELIA: No mother! Where were you born?

TOPSY: Never was born. 'Spec I just growed. [laughs]

www.pagebypagebooks.com/Harriet_Beecher_Stowe/Uncle_Toms_Cabin/ for the book text (DON'T try Project Gutenberg for this one)
www.iath.virginia.edu/utc/onstage/sound/topsent.html for text and sound of the Edison cylinder


There was an elephant called Topsy too, an exhibit at Coney Island at the beginning of the twentieth century. Perhaps she was even named after the first Topsy. She gained a gruesome little place in history when, after killing three people (in separate incidents, the last one a drunken trainer who fed her a lit cigarette), she was deemed too dangerous, and was executed in 1903.

She proved a veritable Rasputin. First they fed her carrots laced with cyanide (perhaps under the impression that she was an exceptionally large and vicious rabbit, or perhaps not). Then they decided to hang her, in public, but the SPCA got sniffy about this. Then Thomas Edison offered his new-fangled DC-type electricity, as part of a rivalry with George Westinghouse. She was shod with copper and covered with electrodes, and given a massive shock in front of a crowd of about 1500.

The contemporary artist Gavin Heck has created memorial sculptures to Topsy the elephant in New York.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3083029.stm

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