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DemolitionMan
06-02-2011, 09:35 PM
Water-skiing elephant dies
By MARK HARPER, Staff Writer
June 1, 2011 12:05 AM

When Bill Green brought his daughter, then 9, from their New England home to the Trefflich Pet Store in Lower Manhattan in 1953, he knew she'd fall in love with the baby elephant that was to be presented to her. She did.

She took one look at Queenie. "I told dad, 'That's what I want,' " Dane recalled Tuesday. And the family brought the Thailand-born elephant home, where they trained her for circus tricks, including the one that made her famous, water-skiing.

Queenie died Monday at Wild Adventures Water & Theme Park in Valdosta, Ga. Dane believes the Siamese elephant was 58.

The pachyderm had retired from a life of circus service in 2001. A highlight was her appearances on water skis, actually two pontoons welded together, along with Dane at what is now DeLeon Springs State Park.

Queenie and Dane worked up and down the East Coast, doing lots of shows for troops and during the holidays. They developed a bond.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Queenie joined a show put on by the late water-skiing hall-of-famer Jim Rusing. She performed with Dane and Rusing's wife, Marj.

Queenie was fun in those days, Marj Rusing recalled in a 2009 interview with News-Journal columnist Ronald Williamson. She enjoyed going into the water and spraying it with her trunk.


And Dane had much to do with her training.

"When you typically see an elephant in a circus, you see a guy giving commands to the elephants and the girls are there for flash," Dane said. "But when Queenie and I performed, it was just she and I alone in the ring."

Dane's father died in 1965. Her family kept the elephant for a couple more years, before deciding to sell her to an elephant performance team based in Michigan in 1967. She joined Circus Gatti in 1981 and performed for another 20 years before retiring at Wild Adventures.

Dane had lost track of her childhood elephant friend until a burning desire to find out whatever had happened to Queenie led her and her son to search for her. In 2005, Dane -- now a grandmother in Concord, N.H. -- flew to Georgia to reunite with Queenie at Wild Adventures.

"She remembered me," Dane said. "She had grown apprehensive of strangers, so when we first got to Wild Adventures, we approached the elephant area, (and) were separated from the elephants by a railroad tie and a cable of fence. We weren't sure what we should do. She definitely showed signs of recognition.

"When we saw it was safe for me to go into the enclosure, she put her trunk on my face and on my arm, and soon she appeared content and was rumbling, which is kind of like an elephant's version of a cat purring.

"You hear an elephant never forgets," she said. "It's true."

Dane returned to see Queenie every year since, remaking a connection few people can claim -- visiting a childhood pet decades later.