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Plans underway for Mary anniversary

By Brad Hicks

The 100-year anniversary of the hanging of circus elephant Mary in an Erwin rail yard is approaching, and a festival recognizing one of Erwin’s most historic happenings now has the support of the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

On Monday, the board approved several street closures necessary for next month’s Erwin Elephant Revival.

Jamie Rice, co-owner of The Bramble Event Space and Venue and representing the group putting on the Erwin Elephant Revival, was present at Monday’s meeting to detail the times and sections of downtown streets that would need to be closed and some of the events themselves.

Rice said the “Trunk Show,” an antique car show which is set to feature entertainment by the East Tennessee State University Bluegrass Band, will be held on Aug. 25. To accommodate this event, Rice requested that the portion of Main Avenue from Tucker Street to Love Street be closed that evening from 5:30-8 p.m.

The Low-Country Boil Charity Dinner, featuring food prepared by the Unicoi County High School Culinary Department, will take place on Aug. 26. Rice said this portion of the Erwin Elephant Revival will feature music from a Cajun band and will take place at the Bramble. She requested that Gay Street from Church Avenue to Main Avenue be closed that evening from 6-11 p.m.

The Elephant Magic Night will take place on Aug. 27. Rice said this portion of the event will feature a kids’ zone in the parking lot beside the Unicoi County Jail and, through a partnership with Hands-On Regional Museum, other elephant-related activities will take place that day.

On the evening on Aug. 27, several previously-purchased elephant statues, including an 18-foot-tall  statue of Mary herself, will be paraded through downtown Erwin. This parade will travel from the First Baptist Church downtown to the post office adjacent to Erwin Town Hall. Rice requested this portion of Main Avenue be closed from 8:45 p.m. to around 10 p.m. for the parade.

Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson said the Erwin Police Department could accommodate coverage of the events, but suggested that organizers speak with the owner of the Capitol Theater, as the street closures could impact the theater’s access. Town Recorder Glenn Rosenoff said he would contact the theater’s owner to discuss the street closures.

The centennial of Mary’s hanging is this September.

The board also approved other street closures for upcoming events sponsored by the Downtown Merchants Association. The first is a yard sale to be held on July 30 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Main Avenue would be closed from Tucker Street to Love Street on that date. Rice, who represented the Downtown Merchants Association, said the street may need to be closed prior to 8 a.m. to allow sellers to set up.

Also approved was an Aug. 18 pep rally, which is slated to be held in the parking lot of First Baptist Church. When the event was held last year, the street from Union Street to Love Street was closed.

In other business, the board also approved the first reading of an ordinance to set the town’s property tax rate at $1.41 per $100 on real estate and personal property for the 2016-17 fiscal year. The second and final reading of the ordinance will be considered next month, and a public hearing on the proposed rate will be held in conjunction with the board’s consideration.

The board also approved a resolution appointing the town’s public works director to the Northeast Tennessee Solid Waste Planning Board, as well as the reappointments of Thomas Harris and Alderman Gary Edwards to the Erwin Utilities Board. Harris’ reappointment is for a three-year term, and Edwards’ reappointment is for a one-year term.

Although no official action on the matter was taken Monday, Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said she would like to see the town take action to help residents of the Quail Run subdivision with their water rates.

Hensley said Quail Run, although located within the town limits of Erwin, receives water through the Unicoi Water Utility District rather than Erwin Utilities and, as a result, subdivision residents are paying higher rates.

“As residents of the town of Erwin, I feel that they need to be treated the same as any other taxpayer in the town of Erwin,” Hensley said. “I think that either we need to extend our water and sewer lines out to them or buy it back from Unicoi or make some kind of deal with Unicoi to where they get a break on their water to where they’re paying the same amount as any other taxpayer inside the town of Erwin.”

Hensley asked Edwards to bring the matter to the attention of Erwin Utilities General Manager Lee Brown to see what could be done.

Alderman Gary Chandler also said he had received complaints regarding the Welcome Home Veterans parade, sponsored by the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce and held on July 4. Hensley said some complaints stem from older veterans being put in the back of the parade and walking.

“Once I learned that, I did send the truck back down to pick up those who were having difficulty walking and bring them back up (to the Veteran’s Memorial Park),” Hensley said. “I just want everybody to know the town had nothing to do with the parade. That was put on by the Chamber of Commerce. The only thing that the town of Erwin had a part in was serving hot dogs and cold drinks to the veterans once they reached the park.”

The mayor also said some local candidates vying for office in the upcoming election had placed signs toward the front of the parade.

“I feel that this parade should have been for our veterans,” Hensley said. “They should have been spotlighted, and it should not have been a time for campaigning. That’s my personal feelings about it.”

Hensley said the Unicoi County Veterans Memorial Committee and the American Legion intend to request that they be allowed to take over organization of the parade beginning next year.

“So hopefully next year it will be a much more organized, a much more better event for our veterans,” Hensley said.