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A Denney for Your Thoughts – Elephants ‘march’ for big cause

By Connie Denney

“Make believe you’re in a jungle movie.  Watch the baby elephants go by.  The beat is groovy. …”

Are you with me so far?  If you are as I was before a little research, you probably never knew the lyrics (by Hal David) to Henry Mancini’s catchy tune, “Baby Elephant Walk.”  I had only heard it as an instrumental piece.

The words go on to talk about the “brand new dance you ought to try,…See the big baboon beat on the bongo as the baby elephants advance. …Down in the Congo, All the swinging monkeys do this dance,…”

As the tune played in my head and I planned this column, I learned that Mancini wrote it for the 1962 movie Hatari!  There’s a scene in which baby elephants are led to a pool to bathe.  Not having seen the film, I enjoyed the trailer, which includes this scene.

The inspiration for all this is, of course, the eight colorful baby elephant statues downtown that have delighted us this summer and will remain until October 21, when a benefit auction is to be held to continue RISE (Rejuvenate, Invest, Support, Energize) Erwin’s efforts to raise money for the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald. Created in 1995, according to its brochure, the refuge provides “lifetime care for elephants retired from public performance or exhibition.”

Regarding a trip RISE members made to the Sanctuary, president Jamie Rice said she thought it made them “even more passionate about what we are doing!  Mary’s (the elephant hanged in Erwin) tragedy was 100 years ago. However, these magnificent animals are still being abused and mistreated now.  So, so sad.”

RISE was able to send more than $7,000 to the Sanctuary after last year’s Erwin Elephant Revival Festival, according to Rice, who said the second annual festival is set for the weekend of September 23.  Plans call for a ticketed charity dinner, street entertainers including a stilt walker who can juggle fire and a children’s art project hoped to line streets with glowing lanterns.

Meanwhile, a brochure, available at the Chamber of Commerce and other downtown locations, pictures the baby elephant statues and tells a bit about the area artists who painted them. Some are quite experienced with impressive credentials, while another is a 14-year-old student at Tennessee High, Bristol.  Students in our local high school’s art department painted one of the statues.  All contributed their work to support the project.

I spoke with John Stewart of Kingsport, who, inspired by Vincent van Gough’s The Starry Night, painted Nammu, the mostly-blue elephant along Main Street.  A self-taught artist, Stewart has won awards for his work, which has sold mostly in southern states, but has also made its way to Los Angeles, New York, Helsinki and Frankfurt.

As did each artist, John named the elephant he painted.  A friend suggested the name of an ancient goddess that gave birth to the sky and sea.  Water, mountains and sky are represented on Nammu.  As a matter of fact, northern hemisphere constellations are present on the elephant!

Do take your own “baby elephant walk” downtown. Can’t you just hear the groovy beat?