NILES - The Republican elephant began as a cartoon, and a local elephant collection began as a joke.
In 1874, Thomas Nast's cartoon in "Harper's Weekly" featured zoo animals, including an elephant labeled "The Republican Vote," running from a donkey clothed in lion's skin.
In 1980, then-Niles Law Director Douglas Neuman received an elephant as a gift meant to poke fun at his political orientation.
Niles attorney and former law director Douglas Neuman shows off some of the items in his collection of elephant paraphernalia. See these and more photos on CU at cu.tribtoday.com
"At that time, it was eight-to-one Democratic registration to Republican registration," he said.
That one elephant, which came unceremoniously from someone "cleaning out their house," has grown into a collection of more than 300, all but about 10 of which have been gifts.
"We don't count the ones in the wallpaper," Neuman said of the decor, suggested to him by a client when he moved to the Cedar Avenue location in 1994.
On the bottom two shelves of a large bookcase are the ones children are allowed to touch while in the waiting room. One of those is a red, white and blue elephant, a Ty Beanie Baby from 2000 named "Righty."
Also for children are several books, kept in a huge elephant planter, with titles such as "Horton Hatches the Egg." Horton, in the Dr. Seuss story, is an elephant.
An historical magazine framed on the wall also originally was meant for kids - it's part of a series in the "Boys' and Girls' Weekly," published in 1876.
Other older elephants in the collection include one from the late 1840s, when the U.S. opened trade with Japan. The piece came from a client whose great-grandfather was in the Merchant Marines. Neuman said he can tell it was made strictly for trade because the ears are red.
Also in his office, where the most valuable items are kept, is a toy from the late 1800s and an Ohio pottery piece from the mid-1800s.
Displayed on some file cabinets, among other pieces, is a lamp from the 1920s with the original beading.
Of course, there's some of the "illegal stuff," such as a letter opener and a miniature set, both made from ivory.
Neuman, who has traveled to Thailand to ride elephants, said his favorite is in the vestibule of the office. It's also the simplest - a large cement lawn ornament. The heavy black piece was found in a yard, and it used to be pink.
More exotic pieces include shiny beaded items, colorful hand-painted planters and knick-knacks, a wooden puzzle from Costa Rica and a Tanzanite piece given to Neuman by a missionary priest.
A tall, hand-carved depiction of stacked elephants came from a sheriff's deputy who bought it while in Africa.
The collection includes elephant-shaped or elephant-decorated charms, candles, candleholders, picture frames, key chains, clocks, charms and a pencil sharpener.
A glass, elephant-shaped container and a balance scale reminiscent of the scales of justice both hold peanuts.
"How do you like his one?" Neuman asked while showing off this collection, picking up an empty elephant-shaped commemorative bottle of Kentucky straight bourbon.
"Every now and then, it's nice to look at them because I can remember who gave it to me," he said.
He remembers that a small copper piece was made by a client's grandmother and that the giver of the stacked elephants thought it was the ugliest thing he'd ever seen.
Neuman has learned about elephants over the years and through his travels as well. He said the African elephants are difficult to train and rather "schizophrenic."
A dark, rich, wooden carving on the a meeting-room wall depicts working elephants. The piece, made of now-unavailable teak, was purchased in Bangkok by another client.
"His wife hated it, and it sat in the basement for 20 years," Neuman said.
In the picture, which Neuman said is very accurate, mahuts sit on the elephants and "steer" by pulling on the left or right ear.
"Can you imagine doing that?" Neuman said.
Some say the Republican party kept the animal as its symbol because it is strong and dignified. An article in a display case at Neuman's office also shows that it is smart - elephants at a Thai animal preserve were taught to use a giant toilet and to flush.
Neuman said if an elephant's trunk is up, it's a sign of good luck. Another old wives' tail says the trunk should always face toward the door.
"I've had people actually come in and turn them toward the door," Neuman said.
He also commented on the quality of the carvings - "saggy and baggy, that means they're good."
Chris Estes, a legal secretary, said she thought the collection was "different" when she started working there, but now she thinks they're very interesting.
"After four years, I still find one here and there that I haven't seen before," she said.
Neuman, who is married and has three grown children, said the entire collection is at work - none at home.
And truthfully, his very first elephant gift, which is now a part of the collection that officially started later, came from a girlfriend when he was just 14, simply because they both liked elephants.