Pepito the Spanish Clown on a Power’s Dancing Elephant, in front of an Orpheum vaudeville theater, 1924, probably in San Antonio, Texas. Power’s Dancing Elephants had been a feature of The New York Hippodrome from its opening in 1905, up to 1923. After The Hippodrome changed ownership in 1923 and the stage was remodeled and downsized, the elephants went on the vaudeville circuit. Photo courtesy of Joan Falcy and Melani Carty. Photo © 2009 by Melani Carty
As an adjunct to my research into the life of Pepito, the Spanish Clown, I have become fascinated with Power’s Dancing Elephants. Powers Elephants were four amazing trained elephants who performed at the world-famous Hippodrome Theater (now demolished) in New York City from 1905 to 1923, and also toured in vaudeville and circuses. In 1926 they left America and toured throughout Europe for eleven years, returning to the States in 1937. In 1944, their owner, Mrs. Jeanne Power, sadly relinquished the elephants, selling them to a circus. The original four Power’s Elephants’ names were Lena, Jennie, Ada and Lou. After Ada and Lou passed away due to pneumonia, they were replaced by Roxie. Later, little Julia was born.
I have been working hard in the old newspaper archives to learn what finally became of these elephants, and most of all, I am hoping to find the descendants of George W. Power (or perhaps it was spelled George W. Powers) who was the elephants’ trainer. George W. Power died at Will Rogers Memorial Hospital in Saranac Lake, New York in May of 1958. His widow was Lisa Power or Lisa Powers. George’s mother was Jeanne Lush O’Brien Power, and his father was William Walter Power. George W. Power’s birth name was George O’Brien, but he assumed his stepfather’s last name and became George W. Power. George also had a brother named Tom Power or Thomas Power.
If you have any information on Power’s Elephants or the Power family, please contact me using the link at the bottom of this page.
Below I have pasted the text of a very good article on Power’s Elephants.
Famed Elephants Just Marchers Now
by Frank Tripp
May 21, 1950
The “queen” of America’s greatest elephant act of four decades ago was reminiscing, and it had to be about elephants. Jeanne Power is in retirement now, after 40 years of intimate association with elephants, and owner of the best.
“Elephants are much like people,” she declares. “They are not treacherous. They do have moods; they pout, they are jealous of one another. They are inquisitive and their old trunk is forever is mischief, like the hands of an active child. They will snoop, pull down lights, open water faucets and undo each other’s chains, as children might, but that does not make them bad.
“Elephants are like goats too,” she chuckled. “They will eat clothing, blankets and all manner of things. Our Roxie once sneaked, chewed and swallowed a quart jar of jam, the crushed glass and all. We gave her up for lost but she lived for many years. Our Jennie ate a bushel of coal, and another time gulped down a whole barrel of road oil. She was weeks recovering, suffered terrible agony and lost several hundred pounds. She’s still alive, and 86.'”
Power’s Elephants are the ones of which I wrote a recent story. In it I made two statements which Mrs. Power corrects. Ringlings never owned these elephants, and I could not have met the sole survivor on a Syracuse street because two of the originals are still living, on the west coast, she reveals.
When Luna Park’s founders, Thompson and Dundy, opened the massive New York Hippodrome in 1905, elephants were at once indicated as a must feature of their colossal extravaganza. They engaged one William Walter Power, proud peer of Pachydermists, as their elephant impresario.
William, hereafter called “Bill,” one of my show-days convivial pals, left the Walter L. Main circus, bought its four biggest and best elephants and took them with him to the Hippodrome, hereafter called “The Hip.” His was the first American elephant act to appear on an indoor stage. Power’s Elephants; vast ensembles of circus thrillers; Marceline, the clown; Annette Kellerman; a block-long under-stage lake of water into into which a gorgeous ballet danced down an incline, disappearing as if into eternity; were many-year magnets which repeatedly attracted 20 million thrill seekers. Power’s Elephants became The Hip’s forefront symbol of bigness.
At The Hip, Bill met a dashing young widow, Jeanne Lush O’Brien, a Brooklyn girl who was of the show. She had a young son, George. Bill married her and to them came another son, Tom. Bill, Jeanne, George and Tom and four knowing elephants, Lena, Jennie, Ada and Lou, were destined to approach worldwide fame. Julia and Roxie later replaced Ada and Lou — and George replaced good old Bill.
When Bill died in 1920, Jeanne carried on. George took Bill’s last name, and long before Bill’s death had become a greater trainer than his stepfather. It was George who taught Jeanne’s elephants to play baseball, bowl, to waltz, two-step and do the Charleston. George taught them stunts of which Bill had never dreamed.
The story of Power’s Dancing Elephants stands way but front in the saga of elephant wisdom. For two score years they entertained two continents. They played year ’round in theaters, circuses, fairs and bull rings at weekly salaries of $1,500 and $2,000. They yearly earned more than the president, and in their careers as much as Man ‘O War. They went to Europe in 1926 and remained eleven years, in England, Scotland, Wales, Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, Spain, Sweden and Denmark.
And now, Jeanne Power, great grandmother of twelve children, lives above the Hudson’s Palisades with her cherished memories of the circus and theater; which go back to her girlhood, when she was a lithe equestrienne and rode for Barnum and Bailey on their European tour of 1897. Of her original elephants, Lena and Jennie still live. Ada and Lou died first of pneumonia. Roxie, a replacement, lived to be almost 100. Lena, 93 and Jennie, 86, with Julia, a youngster of 67, are the three with which Jeanne Power parted in 1944—with broken heart.
It meant the end of her exciting life. Her son George, whose sickness forced the parting, is at Will Rogers Memorial Hospital. Tom is in the army. Time, and three world-famed elephants march on.
March is the right word, for they do not dance any more. Without George, they only march and maybe their hearts are breaking too. “They are just herded circus elephants now. I cried when I saw them,” Jeanne Power said to me. Then she smiled, as show folks must and added, “but they looked well fed.”
If you have any information on Powers Dancing Elephants or the Power family, please contact me.
Powers Dancing Elephants
Power’s Dancing Elephants
New York Hippodrome
Orpheum vaudeville circuit
William Walter Power
Jeanne Lush O’Brien Power
Jeanette Lush O’Brien Power
George W. Power
George W. Powers
If you have any information on Power’s Elephants or the Power family, please contact me.
Thursday, June 10, 2010 – 08:55 PM
Jenny Powers is my wife Susan’s great aunt. We have some pictures of the elephants.