Both the early history and the current whereabouts of Thomus the Hippopotamus remain enshrouded in mystery, but the part of his life story that we know begins 15 years ago in Burlingame.
Dannette Peltier was on a walk with her mom in the Peninsula city when they saw a sign for an auction. Never having attended an auction before, they decided to peek in — but not before promising each other they wouldn’t purchase anything.
A couple hours and $1,400 later, Peltier was the proud owner of a 500-pound bronze, smiling hippopotamus statue. She had no excuse for the purchase — she had simply fallen in love with it. The hippo was so long it barely fit in her car — its nose poked out one window while its tail jutted out the other.
That was in the mid-1990s, and until a few weeks ago, the rotund likeness of the sub-Saharan beast took up residence in various parts of their Sutro Heights home, porch and yard. A few years ago, they decided to place it in front of their house in the driveway. Until then, the icon had remained genderless and nameless, so Peltier put a sign up asking for suggestions. Neighbors and passers-by wrote suggestions on post-it notes. Of 35 suggestions, Thomus T. Hippopotamus was the winner.
Many happy years without incident for the bronze figure and his adopted family ended the morning of Oct. 24, when Peltier woke up to the sickening sight that her beloved Thomus was not in his normal station.
Sometime after 9:30 the night before, a team of burglars had removed Thomas from the driveway; multiple hipponappers had to have been involved, she said, since Thomus was far too heavy for a single person to lift. Peltier reported to police that she had heard some commotion outside her window around 3:45 a.m., but not enough to rouse her suspicions.
Since then, there has been no word of Thomus. Peltier fears Thomus has been sold for scrap metal, and may already have met a grim fate in the heart of an incinerator. She learned in calls to metal recyclers that scrap bronze goes for better than $1 per pound, she said.
But she’s hopeful that Thomus the Hippo may have been burglarized for a less macabre purpose, and may be now gracing another family’s home. That, she said, she could live with.
"If I knew he was taken for scrap metal, that would break my heart," she said. "If someone could just e-mail me and say, ‘I took Thomus and now he’s really happy at my grandmother’s house,’ I wouldn’t mind so much."
Peltier, who has offered a reward for the hippo’s return, is not giving up hope that Thomus will find his way home.
"I wouldn’t be surprised at all if I woke up one day with someone exclaiming, ‘Oh, look! They put the hippopotamus back!’"