How Dumbo is Connected to Syracuse Dumbo and His Connection to Syracuse

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – Wednesday was the 78th anniversary of the Disney movie “Dumbo,” and the movie has a connection to Syracuse. A Syracuse native and her husband co-wrote the story that inspired the movie.

The books and subsequent movie focus on a flying elephant who is made fun of for his big ears. Thus, he is nicknamed Dumbo.

Helen Aberson Mayer and her husband wrote the children’s story that inspired  the movie  in 1939. They sold the  rights of the book  to Disney a couple years after.  In a letter to a lawyer in 1993, Mayer said she made about $1,000 from the deal. Today, that would be equivalent to about $17,500.

Disney followed Mayer’s original story except for changing  a few names and minor details.

Mayer attended Syracuse University and graduated in 1929, according to the SU archives. She went to New York to work as a social worker, but later returned to Syracuse to work in the Syracuse University Alumni Office.

The artist that drew Dumbo was also an SU graduate. Helen Durney graduated with a degree in painting in 1927. Many of Durney’s original illustrations are available at the SU archives.

Mayer died in 1999, but her story of Dumbo lives on.

Contributing reporter: Darianny Abreu

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