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Third Herd: Erwin elephants back on the streets

Sue Guinn Legg • Jun 9, 2019 at 8:44 PM

ERWIN — February’s damaging Midwest flooding has given a new face to Erwin's benefit Trunk Project. With the Nebraska supplier of the town's popular fiberglass elephant statues impacted by high water, a larger herd of smaller, concrete elephants is going out on downtown streets and will remain on a display through the end of October.

A total of 20 statues included in this year’s third annual Trunk Project will be sold in a silent auction to run Oct. 28 through Nov. 1, with all proceeds going to the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald.

Bids will start at $100 and may be placed at Town Hall through 4 p.m. on Nov. 1.

All of the elephants have been painted by local artists and several, like the elephants themselves, depict scenes intrinsic to Erwin — the historic Clinchfield train depot, the Nolichucky River, the Appalachian Trail and the riverside USA Raft resort in Chestoa.

The benefit Trunk Project and statue display was initiated by the young professional group RISE Erwin in 2016 to bring some good from a dark chapter of town history, the 1916 hanging of Mary the circus elephant in the Erwin train yard.

Initiated by the circus owners to appease a call for Mary to be put to the death for the killing of her handler in nearby Kingsport, the cruel spectacle of Mary’s demise that hovered over Erwin for a century motivated the grassroots movement to help other circus elephants at the Tennessee sanctuary. In its first two years, the project has raised more than $20,000 for sanctuary and other nonprofit organizations.

And plans for next year’s auction are already underway. The Nebraska supplier last week made good on the delivery of eight, more than four-foot tall fiberglass statues made from new mold designed exclusively for the Erwin fundraiser.

Jamie Rice, communications specialist for the town and former RISE president, said the new, larger statues will be painted over the coming winter and displayed on downtown streets in the spring and summer of 2020.

Sponsors are needed for the new statues are more information may be obtained about the project by contacting Rice at 423-220-7624.

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