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Event to honor Mary, help elephant sanctuary

By Jamie Rice

For 100 years, Erwin has had an elephant in the room. A literal Elephant. On September 13, 1916, an abused circus elephant named Mary killed her inexperienced trainer during a parade in nearby Kingsport. As customary in the day, the poor animal was immediately sentenced to death by firing squad.  Without guns powerful enough to penetrate her skin, it was decided to take Mary to nearby Erwin where the Clinchfield Railroad would have the means to end Mary’s life.

The black and white image of Mary’s broken body hanging from a railroad derrick is one that locals have seen since birth.  Native Erwin residents cringe when an outsider wants to recount this terrible event in their town’s history. No one has ever wanted to talk about elephants in Erwin, until now.

To honor Mary’s memory, the entire community is hosting The Erwin Elephant Revival.  For the month of August, elephants will be the talk of the town. They will be on the lips of young and old. Through various fundraisers and educational awareness events, Erwin is embracing the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee. This peaceful haven is home to 13 retired and abused captive elephants. The Erwin Elephant Revival has stemmed from the grassroots efforts of the R.I.S.E. Initiative, which is a group of professionals who want to see positive things happen in Unicoi County.  The overall goal is to create a better life for these present day gentle giants and change the elephant legacy of this rural Appalachian town.

We want Erwin to be known as the town that loves elephants  and one of the biggest supporters of the Elephant Sanctuary.  We cannot change what happened 100 years ago, but we do have a choice in how we react to this tragedy, and we choose to create something positive. Everything we are doing is with the purpose of raising funds so that captive elephants can have a better home.  I think this would make Mary proud.

The first step in making the Erwin Elephant Revival a reality was for the Town of Erwin to purchase eight elephant statues from the international non-profit “The Elephant Parade” located in the United Kingdom. This non-profit is dedicated to the habitat conservation of Asian elephants and has fully embraced the efforts of this small town. The purpose for the statues is to create public awareness for this small town’s love of elephants.

The Town will be reimbursed for the initial purchase by allowing local citizens and businesses an opportunity to adopt these statues.  Each of the statues will be sponsored by local businesses and citizens, and will be displayed on Main Street after they have been painted. The following is a list of events that will take place as part of the Erwin Elephant Revival.

Representatives from the Elephant Sanctuary will be partnering with the Unicoi County School System to provide educational programs. The programs, which will be called “Something about Mary,” will be held throughout the month of August in each school to create elephant enthusiasm.

A county wide “Seek Mary Scavenger Hunt” will run Aug. 19 through Aug. 26.  Prizes will be awarded.

On Aug. 20 and 21, the local high school drama class will be performing a one of a kind production related to this event.

A “Trunk Show” will be held on Downtown Main Street, Aug. 25 to showcase antique cars.

A Low Country boil charity dinner, prepared by the high school culinary class, complete with a live Cajun-style band, will be held Friday, Aug. 26 at The Bramble venue.

“Elephant Magic” will be the whimsical grand finale on Saturday night, Aug. 27. The evening will boast food vendors, busker entertainment, a hula hoop troupe, jugglers,  a kid’s interactive fun zone, and culminate with an Elephant Glow Parade.   Hands on Museum  and Kindermusik will be partnering with organizers to create the interactive fun zone for children of all ages. Children are encouraged to participate in the Elephant Glow Parade which will start at 9:30 p.m.

For ways to contribute to this town’s efforts or simply learn more about the events, search for “Erwin Elephant Revival” on Facebook and like the page or email [email protected]  Tickets and merchandise can be purchased at