AUGUSTA — Beulah, the 44-year-old Asian elephant was scheduled to take a bath on Sunday as the last big event of this year's Sussex County Fair in Augusta.
While in the past she has enjoyed her swim in the pond at the entrance of the fairgrounds, this year inclement weather caused the event to be re-scheduled to the last day and it took place in the ring where she had spent the day giving gentle rides to spectators.
But Beulah wasn't in the mood and chose not to have her 'power shower.' As the water sprayed onto her leg she simply walked away, giving owner Tim Commerford the indication she was not interested.
"She's just like us, you don't jump in the lake at 4 p.m. to go for a swim, that's the time you're getting out," said Commerford.
Beulah has appeared at the Sussex County Fair since 1996 and her bathing has been an attraction for years after someone suggested to Commerford that they should take Beulah for a swim in the pond.
She played for an hour, only catching the attention of five to 10 people. Each year after that, as word spread, the crowds grew as people would come to see her take a dip. What began as a fun time that would mark the start of the fair soon became an exhibition, even though the fair was not officially opened.
In order for H.W. Commerford & Sons to maintain their USDA NJ Fish & Wildlife license, it required double fencing around the elephant when spectators gather, so they had to think of an alternative area. The horse show ring became the next option for Beulah's power shower where they could comply with the regulations and the audience could sit comfortably and watch. Here, they had help from the local fire department in the form of their fire hoses, which was like a massage to Beulah.
The crowd that gathered to see Beulah this year enjoyed an educational presentation on her routines, care and favorite foods — things that Commerford takes for granted, but has found that the public really wants to know. They also celebrated her 44th birthday by singing Happy Birthday to her as she was given a birthday cake consisting of carrots, marshmallows, celery, cookies, peanuts, oranges, bananas and Mazuri pelleted feed.
Additionally, first place winner Jessica Riley recited her Best Elephant Joke submitted this year to the audience from atop of the elephant stand. Her joke was, "What do you get when you cross an elephant with a fish? Swimming trunks!"
Beulah has a following everywhere she goes including the fan-base at the Sussex County Fair, so her owners are thinking of creating a Facebook page for her.
Her celebrity moments include appearing on the first episode of Sigourney Weaver's show "Political Animals" and giving rides to Jon Bon Jovi, La Toya Jackson and Billy Ray Cyrus.
The animals people see at the fair are only a fraction of H.W. Commerford's Traveling Petting Zoo which includes Beulah, who is from India, two other elephants, a camel, 60 equine, as well as exotic animals like lemurs and macaws.
When his father Bob started the enterprise in the late 1960s all he had was horse trailers with wooden floors to take the show on the road. Last year, they invested in a state-of-the- art transport trailer, which cost over a quarter million dollars and was custom designed for elephants as well as the other animals.
There are separate windows, special compartments, and it is equipped with air-ride suspension. There is LED lighting inside and special doors to make getting the animals on and off easy and safe.
When they aren't traveling, Beulah, Tim and the folks of R.W. Commerford & Sons Traveling Petting Zoo call Goshen, Conn. home.
Beulah's work mode is a slow pace that is comfortable for her and she doesn't do any special tricks.
"She's special because she loves everybody," Commerford said. "It's not normal for an elephant to accept anybody right away when they walk up to her. She actually listens to conversations, wags her tail like a dog, and flaps her ears. And when the crew is having their morning coffee, she is right there with them."
Beulah, who was bought one month after Commerford was born, fools with him, tugging at his ankles when he is speaking to an audience, nuzzling him, blowing raspberries. When he puts her in the trailer at night he gives her a hug and she flaps her ears. Because of this docile temperament, the Commerford's will take her to the Girl Scouts' camp for an educational show.
Her skin is very porous yet durable and strong. She can feel a fly land on her back but will also scratch an itch against a tree and take the bark off without getting hurt. She gets bathed using floor brooms, which are like big back scratchers, and with special soap made for elephants that contains oils. She eats four to five bales of hay a day and 40 pounds of special elephant feed.
She is strictly a vegetarian but has a sweet tooth. Treats include an occasional batch of sweet feed which contains molasses and leftover cotton candy or apples from the fair.
At 12,480 pounds, Beulah is considered a healthy elephant. She gets weighed at truck stops when possible. She will go through five sets of teeth before she dies and is expected to live to be 65 to 70 years old.
Another interesting fact is that elephants don't sweat. Their body's heating and cooling system is through the ears, which is the thinnest skin and where the blood is heated or cooled as circulates.
Maybe next year Beulah will be in the mood to get her power shower.