By Keith Whitson
Every place has some dark side stored in its trunk. You know there is something small or large that is just “hanging” around. Erwin has Mary.
I recently noticed a Facebook group started which is titled “The Erwin Elephant Revival.” I am sure many are saying “Oh no, put that behind us and don’t bring it up.” But, I for one, think we need to embrace it. After all, we weren’t the ones that placed judgment on the elephant. We were just sought out because of the railroad’s derrick. The animal would have been shot numerous times and suffered longer without it.
Happening 100 years ago this year, you have to realize the times were different. The fear had been placed and folks would not have come back out to see a circus or put the matter to rest without something being done publicly to let them know the “vicious” elephant was no longer able to harm someone.
It all started from a parade held in Kingsport. The elephant wasn’t accustomed to the trainer that night who, legend has it, was poking her with a sharp object after she reached for some watermelon. She reacted as an abused animal would. With her size, the consequences proved grim for the trainer.
I have paid attention over the years at the notoriety the elephant has brought to our small town. I remember it featured on the original Hollywood Squares. It has been a question on Jeopardy and was listed in “Playboy” magazine at one time. There have been numerous plays over the years to depict the story. I am sure there must be even more, after all it isn’t something many towns can claim.
I have often wondered why we don’t embrace it. The incident is not something of our generation but it is part of our past and not even a situation which started here. It is a unique matter which could be a great tourist feature.
I could envision a small museum to honor and pay tribute to Mary. We could have the story displayed, telling interesting facts and benefits about elephants, have a replica depicting the size of Mary and numerous items to sell as souvenirs.
What about a fountain in the Gathering Place park with an elephant in the center, raised up with water shooting out of its snout? A plaque could read “This do in memory of Mary – may she rest in peace in our small town.”
The Facebook group I mentioned has the following as their intents.
“Living in this area we’re sure there’s one large animal that comes to mind when you think of Erwin… Mary the Elephant. It turns out that this year is the 100th Anniversary of her tragic hanging. As the next generation of Erwin natives, we are tired of the stigma and gruesomeness associated with poor Mary’s death and are passionate about making it right somehow and changing the nature of the association of Erwin and Elephants. Therefore the Town of Erwin and the R.I.S.E. Initiative (Rejuvenate, Invest, Support, Energize) are hosting the “Erwin Elephant Revival” August 19th through 27th. Our goal is to use this as an opportunity for change, as well as, a fundraiser for The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN, near Nashville. In the grand scheme of things, we would like to become the largest community donor to the sanctuary. Instead of being known as the town that hung the elephant, be known for love and support in caring for elephants, allowing them to live their lives in a safe haven.”
The schedule of events posted are:
• Aug. 19, Seek Mary Scavenger Hunt begins at noon through Aug. 26, at 11:59 p.m.;
• Aug. 20-21, Unicoi County High School Drama Department performs a play about Mary;
• Aug. 25, TRUNK Show, Unicoi County Courthouse parking lot, downtown Erwin;
• Aug. 26, Low Country Boil, The Gathering Place, downtown Erwin
• Aug. 27, downtown festivities and Proud Mary Glow Parade, downtown Erwin;
• and more details to come.
I applaud this group and see it as hope for our next generation. I feel the younger generation is the hope for America. I am encouraged by their willingness to embrace our past, embrace change and embrace diversity. May they show more acceptance instead of division and may they show more love to their fellow man.
Too many families have had to suffer from the things in the past and the things in their “trunk.” The moment we stop looking around to find the faults in everyone else and see ourselves as human and weak in our own ways, the sooner we can unite and be stronger.
It saddens me to hear of all the hatred on the news. It is going to take love, forgiveness and the realization that we all are different but we all have potential and good and can do so much to make the world a better place.
Let’s support this Facebook group. Let’s support and embrace our history and turn it into a positive for possibly learning about elephants. Let’s even recognize our less popular decisions. But, most importantly, let’s work at making today better and leaving a good history for the future generations, one that shows progress, acceptance and love.