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Erwin Elephant Revival returning

By Brad Hicks

Following the Erwin Elephant Revival held in August 2016, Mary was no longer Erwin’s elephant in the room.

The event was held to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the Sept. 13, 1916, hanging of circus elephant Mary in an Erwin rail yard. The happening was also seen as a means to honor the memory of the departed pachyderm and erase the stigma that hung over Erwin for a century.

Activities held and memorabilia sold throughout the 2016 Erwin Elephant Revival raised funds for a refuge dedicated to providing care and habitat to captive elephants.

Despite the success of last year’s event, there were no initial plans for a second Erwin Elephant Revival. However, organizers could not ignore the mammoth response.

“We really just had no idea how well it would be received,” said Jamie Rice, president of RISE Erwin and communications specialist for the Town of Erwin. “We thought that we would do this 100-year anniversary for the event, but it just went so well and people just sort of grabbed ahold of it and couldn’t wait for the next one. So we were definitely encouraged by the success from last year to do it again this year.”

The second annual Erwin Elephant Revival, featuring a series of events organized by RISE Erwin will once again benefit the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, will kickoff on Saturday, Sept. 16, and run through Saturday, Sept. 23. This year’s festivities will include performances, a Hawaiian dinner, art displays, a big reveal, and a party in downtown Erwin.

The social media-based “#SeekMary” scavenger hunt will begin on Sept. 16 and continue through Thursday, Sept. 21. 

Rice said small elephant figurines will be hidden within several participating businesses located throughout downtown Erwin. Those finding these figurines will then photograph themselves holding the small elephant and upload the picture to Twitter, Instagram or Facebook using the hashtag #SeekMary.

A winner of the #SeekMary scavenger hunt will be announced at the end of the week, and this individual will receive two tickets to the charity dinner held on Friday, Sept. 22.

Information on the participating businesses will be released closer to the date of the event.

On Tuesday, Sept. 19, the Unicoi County High School Drama Department will present “Traveling Trunk Tails” beginning at 6 p.m. at the Bramble Event Space and Venue located in downtown Erwin.

“Traveling Trunk Tails” is a series of short stories and skits developed by UCHS Drama students based on the eight painted elephant statues found throughout downtown Erwin that were completed as part of last year’s Erwin Trunk Project.

Admission for the “Traveling Trunk Tails” presentation at the Bramble is $5 for adults and $3 for students.

The UCHS students will perform “Traveling Trunk Tails” at each of the county’s elementary schools during the week of their public presentation at the Bramble. 

“The schools are really onboard with it this year,” Rice said. “They loved it last year. Last year they got their feet wet, and this year they’re really wanting to participate.”

The county’s elementary students will play a big role in creating ambiance for this year’s Erwin Elephant Revival. Rice said during the week of Sept. 18, each of Unicoi County’s elementary schools will have the same art project. Students will be tasked with creating “glow lanterns,” Rice said, adding the lanterns creating by students will be displayed during the Mary’s Glow Party portion of the event.

“So they’ll get to come downtown and see all of the lanterns that they’ve made, so we’re really excited about that,” Rice said.

A number of teachers will also incorporate elephant-themed activities into their lesson plans to get students excited about the upcoming Elephant Revival, Rice said.

The Queen Kamarymary’s Hawaiian Luau charity dinner will be held on Friday, Sept. 22, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the Bramble.

Attendees are urged, though not required, to dress appropriately for the luau-themed event.

“Everybody’s encouraged to wear their Hawaiian shirts, and we will provide leis for everyone to get everyone in the spirit when they walk in,” Rice said.

A live steel drum band will perform on Gay Street just outside the Bramble the evening of the event. Appetizers will also be served outside the venue, while a buffet dinner, featuring a roasted pig, will be served inside.

Tickets for the Queen Kamarymary Hawaiian Luau charity dinner are $40 per person and reservations are required. Tickets may be ordered online by visiting or by emailing [email protected]

This year’s Erwin Elephant Revival will culminate with Mary’s Glow Party, which will be held Saturday, Sept. 23, beginning at 6 p.m. in downtown Erwin.

This portion of the event will feature a kids’ sensory zone compliments of the Hands On! Regional Museum, food trucks, and glow-themed buskers including a living statue, a juggler, a hula hoop troupe and a unicyclist.

A magic show will be held during Mary’s Glow Party beginning at 6:30 p.m., and an elementary school musical will begin at around 7 p.m. at the Gathering Place Park located across from the Unicoi County Courthouse.

At 8 p.m., a “public art reveal” will take place at the Gathering Place, Rice said. She said a 20-foot-long mural created by the UCHS Art Department will be unveiled at that time.

Prior to the event, organizers will start the hashtag #erwinglowsformary, Rice said.

Unlike last year, the 2017 Erwin Elephant Revival will not feature a parade. However, Rice said what was perhaps the highlight of last year’s procession will be on display during this year’s Elephant Revival.

The large Mary statue created for last year’s event by Chris Kastner, owner of the Backyard Terrors Dinosaur Park in Bluff City, will appear in downtown Erwin during the week leading up to Mary’s Glow Party.

“People are going to have to come down and see her because we’re going to try and dress her up,” Rice said. “I know for Friday, of course, she’ll have the luau attire on. The title of our dinner is Queen Kamarymary, and it’s kind of based on the King Kamehameha Hawaiian tradition, so we’re going to have her out in full attire for the luau.”

But like last year, this year’s Erwin Elephant Revival will serve as a fundraiser for the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee located in Hohenwald. Proceeds from the Sept. 19 “Traveling Trunk Tails” performance, the Queen Kamarymary Hawaiian Luau dinner, and the sale of merchandise will go toward the Elephant Sanctuary.

The first annual Erwin Elephant Revival raised more than $7,000 for the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.

And the fundraising for the Sanctuary won’t end with the second annual Erwin Elephant Revival. The elephant statues are now on display throughout Erwin’s downtown as part of the Erwin Trunk Project public art initiative will be auctioned on Oct. 21 beginning at noon at the Gathering Place.

Starting at 11 a.m. the day of the auction, there will be live music and food trucks will begin selling fare.

Last year, the town purchased the fiberglass statues from the Elephant Parade, an international organization established in The Netherlands more than a decade ago which is dedicated to combatting elephant extinction. The Elephant Parade funds this mission through the sale of elephant figurines, which are decorated by artists and celebrities.

The unpainted statues were displayed during last year’s parade, and sponsors were acquired for statues. The statues were then sent to artists throughout the region for them to decorate.

The completed statues debuted during the Erwin Great Outdoors Festival held on May 6.

Rice said the parade of ornately-painted pachyderms has garnered widespread interest.

“We’ve had people from Montana and Florida call us,” Rice said. “It’s been pretty amazing.”

The starting bid for each statue will be $1,500. Proceeds from their sale will go to the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.

Those wishing to bid on an elephant but unable to attend the live auction may obtain an offsite bidder form by visiting An interested bidder will provide his or her maximum bid on the form and a live bidder will be assigned for them during the auction.

For more information on the Erwin Elephant Revival, contact RISE Erwin via email at [email protected] or Rice at 220-7624.