Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - 55

pottery elephants are, my money would
be better sent to The Elephant Sanctuary. (I
know this to be true-but the $6.95 red elephant watering can I buy down the street
is small consolation.)
In Clinchfield Pharmacy on the morning of the Great Outdoors Festival, there's
a giant inflatable elephant standing to the
side of the pharmacy counter. "What's
that thing doing standing there?" a customer asks the clerk.
"Oh, you know, Joe," she says, pointing
to the pharmacist. "He was going to hang
it, but he couldn't find a noose."
The clerk tells me a slightly skewed version of Mary's demise, saying it was her
owner that Mary killed, not her handler.
"Always wondered, why didn't they inject
her with something and put her down
that way? The killing happened over in
Kingsport-why'd they have to come to
our town to kill her?"
It's an interesting question, unanswerable but inviting speculation.
As the morning passes, Main Street
fills. Kids have their pictures taken with
Smoky the Bear. A man strolls by with
an iguana draped on his shoulder. Volunteers from Kingsport's Bays Mountain Park have brought snakes and
birds of prey. Appalachian Trail hikers
stop by the AT booth to share stories.
Skateboarding ramps and jumps line a
side street. Plants are for sale on every
corner. I eat Elephant Tracks ice cream
and am happy for RISE Erwin: Despite
a questionable weather forecast, the
crowds have turned out for their Great
Outdoors Festival.
Near the open stage and food trucks at
the end of Main Street, Tyler Engle, executive director of the Unicoi County Joint

Economic Development Board, stands
smiling big. He's young, and he's cheerful,
and he's on the front lines of RISE Erwin.
He's an Erwin native who returned with
his wife Logan to help bring his home
town into a new future.
"This is the most exciting time in the
past 60 years here in Erwin," he says. With
the rise and subsequent fall of the railroad
and Southern Potteries, the arrival of Nuclear Fuel Services in the 1950s was a major stabilizer. Now Unicoi County's largest employer with a workforce of 1,000,
Nuclear Fuel produces fuel used for Navy
nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers.
There's more. An industrial park. Fiberoptic throughout the county. A new
hospital. Rocky Fork, Tennessee's 55th
state park, under construction. Grantfunded waterline extensions. A library
housed in the former Clinchfield/CSX
Rail Passenger station. The Appalachian

Trail and the Nolichucky River. Main
Street festivals-this one, and an Apple Festival in its 41st year that draws
110,000 visitors.
And an Elephant Revival. Eyewitness
Wade Ambrose ended his account of
Mary's hanging like this:
So they buried the elephant there, and as
far as I know, her bones are still there, near
the back track, below where the old powerhouse used to be. Sometime, in a hundred,
or five hundred years from now, somebody
will probably find her and wonder how in the
world those bones got there.
I'd like to think that Mary's bones will
stay buried where they are, at peace in this
small mountain town, her memory ongoing in elephant revivals, public elephant
art, and support for elephants who are a
lot more fortunate than Mary was.
The word that comes to mind is
atonement.

An elephant at the
Great Outdoors
Festival means fun
for these gentlemen.

JULY/AUGUST 2018

55



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018

Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - Intro
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - Cover1
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - Cover2
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - 3
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - 4
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - 5
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Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - Cover3
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - Cover4
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