Saturday, November 7, 2009

The water skiing elephants of De Leon Springs


Yesterday I took some out of town visitors to De Leon Springs for a delightful pancake lunch and learned more about what the place was like when it was a roadside attraction. But first this tip: the restaurant is much less crowded on a weekday at lunch. While you might experience a wait of an hour or more during a weekend morning, we were able to walk right in and get the best table in the house, by an open window in front of the gigantic water wheel. A light breeze came across the water and cooled us and the sound of rushing water was audible below the water wheel. Well worth taking a day off for!

At the small museum on the opposite side of the spring from the restaurant are some wonderful murals including the image above showing some of the aquatic attractions of the spring. In the background is a small motorboat jumping a ramp- I've seen multiple postcard images of the same and imagine that was a staple of the show. Also note the tram or people mover now seen at most theme parks and the Cypress Gardens-like water ski pyramid. But the star of the show had to be the water skiing elephant. I found this wonderful first hand account on the circus history website about Queenie, the water skiing elephant:

"My Dad, Bill Green, trained Queenie to water-ski at Ponce de Leon Springs in the winter of 1958-1959. I water-skied with Queenie the winter of 1959-1960.
We bought Queenie in 1953 when she was approximately nine months old and she remained in my family until 1967 when we sold her to Walt King of Kings Performing Elephants in Richmond, Michigan. Walt sold Queenie to Circus Gatti in 1981. After suffering various forms of mistreatment and neglect, she was transferred to Wild Adventures, in Valdosta, GA, in 2001 where she remains to this day. After not having seen each other for 38 years, Queenie and I were reunited in October of 2005 - and the old saying "an elephant never forgets" is true. She remembered me! I have seen her each year since and will see her again this June."- Liz Green Dane, March 21, 2008

I found this video online of Liz and Queenie performing:

Postscript: Liz Dane, who performed with Queenie, pointed out that the elephant in the painting at De Leon Springs is actually Sunshine Sally, a circus elephant who was Queenie's predecessor. Liz and Queenie performed at De Leon Springs in the winters of 1959 and 1960. Look for more in a future post!

10 comments:

  1. Liz (Green) Dane - lizgdane@gmail.comNovember 15, 2009 at 5:48 PM

    Rick - I was pleasantly surprised to come across your Blog. However, I would like to make you aware that the top picture (artist rendition) is of an elephant named "Sunshine Sally" and the lady with her is Marj Rusing. They perfprmed at the "Springs" before Queenie and I were there (winter of 1958-1959 and 1959-1960. I can send you a photo of Queenie and me water skiing if you would like to add it to your blog.

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  2. Liz- duly noted. Thanks for the correction. I would love to learn more about DeLeon Springs when you worked there!

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  3. Would that be the same elephant that performed at Sunshine Springs in Sarasota? I have home movies of her. She waved her trunk in the air as she "skied."

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  4. ElectroSpark- Liz Dane sez:
    "Rick - To the best of my knowledge, the "Sunshine Sally" that skied at P de L Springs is the very same elephant that skied in Sarasota. Compare your home movies to an actual photo taken at the Springs and I'm pretty sure you will be able to make a comparison to validate my opinion...it was definitely a Clyde Beatty elephant as was Sunshine Sally."

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  5. I skied at SunShine Springs and Gardens in 1956-57 and then at Ponce De Springs in 58. the picture of the three man pyramid looks like a copy of a post card. Bob Witt (right) Wayne Stevens (left) and Dolly Barrineau (top). Sun Shine Sa;;y skied there too.

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    1. I skied there and still have post card of three man. Doillie Barrineau top. Bob Witt Right, Wayne Stevens left.

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  6. I would love to see any photos or video, Dollie Barrineau was my mother. I have heard wonderful stories and was happy to see this.
    Thank you,
    Laurie Cardy

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    1. I live in Sarasota and I am on facebook.

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  7. My grandfather, Bob Dunbar, owned the springs during this time and my dad (Bruce Dunbar) often speaks of the skiing elephant. He and my aunt (Barbara Dunbar) both skied in the show.

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  8. Allison- That's fantastic- do you have any photos of them performing at the spring?

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