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Erwin Elephant Revival returns in October

This elephant statue in front of Erwin Town Hall is just one of the statues that will be auctioned off during the Erwin Elephant Revival next month. Others statues are located in downtown Erwin. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

From Staff Reports

Erwin has a new story to tell. One that is colorful and full of redemption.

Today, standing watch over this historic downtown, are eight baby elephant statues. They are cheerfully painted with vibrant hues and themes that would melt even the coldest heart. Smiles can be seen on every corner of the street, from the elephants and thousands of visitors alike.

Born in 2016, a series of fundraisers and public awareness events known as the “Erwin Elephant Revival” was created as atonement for the tragic death of a circus elephant named Big Mary. This gentle creature was forced to perform in Spark’s Circus in nearby Kingsport.  On Sept. 16, 1916, Mary had a very bad day. During a downtown parade she was pushed beyond her limits and accidentally killed her inexperienced trainer. Crowd hysteria and mob mentality prevailed, and poor Mary was sentenced to die.

Without adequate firepower to complete the task, the circus owner hung his star attraction in the Clinchfield railyard in Erwin the next day. For the last 100 years, locals have wished they could bury this undeserved stigma along with Mary’s bones, under the old roundhouse.  Songs have been sung, books have been written and playwrights have enacted this sad story over and over again. A new generation of Erwin locals decided that they had lived with “the elephant in the room” long enough. They could not save Mary, but they can make a difference in the lives of modern day elephants. 

Due to the overwhelming generosity of our community, more than $15,000 has been donated for the care of 10 elderly captive elephants at The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee in the last two years.

This 2,700 acre natural habit provides space, comfort and 24 hour veterinary care for suffering elephants who have spent most of their lives on public display in zoos or circuses. Mary would have been happy there.

The 2018 Erwin herd will be auctioned off on Oct. 20 at noon in the Gathering Place Park in downtown Erwin. One hundred percent of the proceeds of this public art project benefit local non-profits, as well as two elephant charities. For those unable to attend the live auction, a proxy bid form can be found at 

Please contact Jamie Rice 220-7624 for any further questions.