By Keith Whitson

Gasp! Yes, we did it. We actually printed a special section devoted to (deep breath) Mary the elephant.

I know many of our readers will be offended and many will ask themselves why we are bringing up bad things from the past that should stay “buried.” If it happened today, I would be appalled, but I do understand it more in reference to the time it occurred.

Viewers were terrified and rumors would spread. It would be the end of the circus with people afraid to come out as long as Mary was still around. In many instances, an outraged crowd wins.

Today there would be much stricter codes and laws and precautions to abide by. After all, there could be lawsuits. If the elephant stepped on a weed, environmentalists would claim it was a rare weed. Republicans would say it was a strike against the party. Democrats would want to know why a donkey wasn’t also in the parade. Blacks would be offended, claiming the white tusks represented white power. Straight folks would be claiming the circus costumes looked gay and that provoked the elephant. Donald Trump would be claiming the animal should have already been sent back to Africa. Hillary Clinton would say Mary had a right to be mad because she worked for peanuts on the pay scale.

I’ve always been fascinated by the story and find its nationwide reach to be amazing. Do you realize if CNN had been around during the day, we would have been their top story. Networks would be coming on with “We now interrupt this broadcast to bring you live coverage from Erwin, TN, where an elephant is about to be hanged from a railroad derrick. Viewer discretion is advised.”

I don’t put fault with the elephant. I certainly don’t put fault with Erwin. In my seeing it, the initial incident didn’t happen here and  we didn’t call for Mary’s death.  We just happened to have a derrick in our backyard.

I don’t understand why we feel the need to capture nature and make it our entertainment, whether it be a circus or a zoo? Then we are suddenly surprised when the animal acts as it should.

The saddest thing to me is seeing an amusement ride which has about six small ponies tied up to a mechanism that goes in circles, being powered by the ponies. They go around and around for hours with children on their backs. What a sad life.

I have a terrible image that burns in my mind from a trip I once took with a stop in Mexico. The weather was hot and sticky. There were numerous horses, donkeys and other such animals being used to pull tourist buggies. I imagine this must be a profitable venture with a lot of confused tourists dropping off and no clue of how to get around in your small town.

It always makes me sad to see those animals brought out for long hours of standing on asphalt in the blistering heat with a buggy strapped to them. This particular horse looked very tired and undernourished. His bones were showing distinctly with skin hanging on them. He had no blanket or protection on his back. The straps and bars had cut into his skin, making harsh sores that were being swarmed by flies.

His owner wasn’t around. My first thought was to unhitch him and set him free, but I knew that would probably get me jailed in a foreign country. I am the one that wants to free the trapped lobsters in supermarkets with Rubber Bands around their pinchers.

There is so much suffering in this world from pets to people. I saw a sign recently that read “I see humans but no humanity.” It’s time we turn this around with some compassion and understanding.

I was so proud to see a small group of Unicoi Countians come together in an attempt to accept our past and try and bring something positive to the picture. Often we make things worse by pretending they didn’t happen. We can show that we aren’t that generation and we have compassion for our fellowman and animals.

I am talking about the Town of Erwin and the R.I.S.E. Initiative (Rejuvenate, Invest, Support, Energize), who are hosting the “Erwin Elephant Revival” August 19th through 27th.

In a recent press release, the group made the statement “Our goal is to use this as an opportunity for change, as well as, a fundraiser for The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN, near Nashville. In the grand scheme of things, we would like to become the largest community donor to the sanctuary. Instead of being known as the town that hung the elephant, be known for love and support in caring for elephants, allowing them to live their lives in a safe haven.”

I ask that you please come out and enjoy the festivities. This is not a celebration of killing an elephant as so many have suggested. It is a tribute to Mary and a caring gesture for other animals right here in our state.

We have a great name for being supportive here. If families have needs, we are there. If neighboring counties have needs we are there. We support our local animal shelter. We support and honor our veterans. Let’s be known for the generation that made an effort to own our past and set course for the future.