Erwin elephants up for auction, more popular than ever

Sue Guinn Legg • Oct 20, 2019 at 8:49 PM

ERWIN — The town of Erwin is preparing to say goodbye to the herd of brightly painted elephant statues that have been attracting attention locally and nationally since spring.

Seventeen, two-foot tall concrete elephant statues on display throughout downtown Erwin will go up for bid in a silent auction to be conducted Oct. 28-Nov.1 at Erwin Town Hall.

Bids will start at $150 and all proceeds will go the the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald.

“These little elephants have brought so much joy and attention this year to our town,” Jamie Rice, communications specialist for the town and past president of the RISE Erwin group that launched the Erwin Elephant Revival benefit more three years ago.

Held in honor of Mary, a circus elephant that was hanged in Erwin in 1916, the story of how the Elephant Revival has brought some good to that dark chapter of town history was the subject of an Elizabethton High School podcast that won first place in a National Public Radio contest in May.

Since then, Rice said, film crews from California, Chattanooga and, most recently, Virginia Tech, have come to Erwin to document the story of “Murderous Mary,” who killed her handler in neighboring Kingsport the day before her hanging in the Erwin rail yard.

The unexpected attention made what began as a less than ideal year for the Elephant Rival one of the most widely publicized in the project’s three-year history.

Heavy flooding in the Midwest left the Nebraska manufacturer of the larger fiberglass statues that had generated nearly $20,000 in proceeds for the elephant sanctuary and other local nonprofit organizations in the revival’s first two year unable to deliver. So RISE Erwin opted instead for a larger herd of smaller concrete elephants purchased locally at much less expense.

Colorfully painted by local artists, the 2019 statues hit the streets only a few weeks after the local high school podcast beat out 3,000 entries to win the NPR contest and national attention for Erwin.

Meanwhile, the popularity of the statues among residents and visitors to Erwin was as robust as ever. “People love these little elephants,” Rice said. And for those who long to take one home, the lower starting bid, down from $1,000 in past years, as well as the smaller size that makes this year’s statues easier to place in a garden or on a porch.

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. Photos of the statues can be viewed at the town’s website erwintn.org.

Bids may be placed at Erwin Town Hall, 211 N. Main Ave., during regular business hours beginning Monday, Oct. 28, and continuing through 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1.

Those who are unable to bid in person may contact Rice at communications@erwintn.org or call 423-743-6231 for assistance. Bid winners will be contacted and announced on the RISE Erwin Facebook page at the close of the auction.