For a brief two years, a Thailand-born elephant named Queenie became the last known live pachyderm to master water skis.
Queenie was taught her craft by Jim Rusing, a member of the Water Ski Hall of Fame and a producer of aquatic thrill shows. She performed several times a day at Florida’s Ponce de Leon Springs (now DeLeon Springs State Park). Queenie was only seven at the height of her fame, and replaced an earlier skiing elephant named Sunshine Sally. She got her first taste of stardom posing for Mercury Outboard Motor ads. Rusing, always a showman, sometimes put a live bear in the cockpit of the tow boat.
Because of her elephantine size, Queenie’s “skis” were two large pontoons, welded together. She would simply walk onto them from shore, then walk off them when her ride was over. Queenie seemed to enjoy her work, and evidently was far more personable than Sunshine Sally. Her popularity led to guest appearances on The Tonight Show and at rallies for the Republican Party.
Queenie’s aquatic career concluded in 1960, but her fame endured — apparently inspiring the owner of a pink elephant statue in Iowa to take it water-skiing on the Mississippi River in 1978.
After a peaceful retirement in Valdosta, Georgia, Queenie died on Memorial Day 2011. She was 59.
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