Why Is The Somers Town Hall Called The Elephant Hotel?

The origin of the Bailey Circus.

Q: Why is the Somers Town Hall called the Elephant Hotel, and why is there an elephant statue out in front of it? —Brice Derring, Berne, NY

A: In 1808, a man named Hachaliah Bailey thought it would be a good idea to buy an African elephant to work on his farm. (The ol’ H-man liked to think outside the box, wouldn’t you say?)

Bailey found that using elephants as labor in Westchester County was weird and pretty ineffectual even in the early 1800s, but he did notice folks came out in droves to take a gander at the large gray pet he named Old Bet. So Hach did the only reasonable thing: He took his 15,000-pound girlfriend on tour. They became a wildly popular attraction, and, before long, they added some more exotic animals. 

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So was born the Bailey Circus.

Bailey built the hotel between 1820 and 1825, at the height of his tour’s popularity. It became a hub for circus owners, tourists, and animal lovers, and was a favorite stop of stagecoaches heading to and from New York City. Old Bet died in 1827, and Bailey had at least two other elephants, so he named the hotel in their honor.

The hotel is a beautiful example of Federal-style domestic architecture, and, in 1927, the Town of Somers purchased it and adapted it for use as its town hall. In 2005, it was designated a National Historic Landmark. 

Q: An ocean away in the middle of England, I came across an article in your August 2010 edition entitled “A Stanford White Mansion for Sale in New Rochelle.” It intrigued me, as the picture that went with it was very similar to a picture of a New Rochelle house that was called All View at about the period of WWI.

The picture that I have is from an album of a New Yorker called Ernest Joseph Thal, who married an English lady called Frances Dunkels at the turn of the century. The resulting family is that of my wife. The Thal family apparently remained in New York; Ernest’s brother Louis was engaged in 1900 to Edith, the daughter of Isaac Guggenheim. The page in the album gives no hint of whose house All View was, who lived there, or why or exactly when he visited. When I discovered the picture in Westchester Magazine, I was struck by the similarities between the All View and the Stanford White house.

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Can you help me with this? Are they the same house, and do you know who lived in All View around the time of WWI? If you can help me, I would be delighted and much obliged. —Geoffrey Corser, England

A: There it is, folks—we’ve gone worldwide! Talk about pressure! Now I’ve got to avoid an international incident and come up with a suitable answer.

Here goes.

The easy answer is that All View is indeed the same mansion as the Stanford White estate. Stanford White was one of the most renowned architects in our nation’s history. He designed and built the mansion in the late 1800s for the famous yachtsman C. Oliver Iselin, who, at the end of the 19th century, was the Michael Jordan of the America’s Cup (yacht racing) and a true American hero.

In 1911, Iselin sold All View to Edward Schaefer, the president of both the Germania Bank and the F. & M. Schaefer Brewing Company. According to Patrick Raftery at the Westchester County Historical Society, Schaefer and his family stayed there through World War I and at least until 1929. 

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The more than 21,000-square-foot mansion, which overlooks the Long Island Sound in the Premium Point section of New Rochelle, sits on nearly three acres of land, has 28 rooms, 12 bathrooms, and a six-car garage. The grounds were designed by Central Park landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

Q: Is it true that Yoko Ono has John Lennon’s remains in an exclusive unmarked mausoleum at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale? —Tom Marks, White Plains

A: John Lennon was cremated at Ferncliff Cemetery on December 10, 1980, two days after he was murdered. His remains are not in any of the mausoleums at Ferncliff, though the remains of Judy Garland, Cab Calloway, Ed Sullivan, Joan Crawford, and Aaliyah are all interred there. (Mausoleum costs at Ferncliff can exceed $250,000.)

Biographer Frederic Seaman claimed in his book The Last Days of John Lennon that, despite the fact that Lennon was horrified at the idea of being cremated, Yoko Ono insisted on it. Seaman wrote that one of Lennon’s bodyguards present at the cremation said that Lennon’s corpse actually grimaced right before his body entered the crematorium.

It remains unclear where his ashes are now. Some believe Yoko scattered them over Strawberry Fields in Central Park, while others say they remain in her possession.   

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