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Rise Erwin group trying to shed stigma of Murderous Mary

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ERWIN, Tenn. - The town of Erwin is trying to turn a dark day in its past into something positive for its future.

"Rise Erwin decided that we are tired of having the stigma as the town that hung the elephant," Jaime Rice, the President of the Rise Erwin group, says.

In 1916, Mary the circus elephant killed its owner in Kingsport. The Model City didn't have a big enough crane, so they brought the elephant to Erwin to be hanged. The notorious event was captured in photographs and has lived on in news headlines, stories and books. A century later, Rise Erwin, a grassroots group of Erwin residents, is coming alive to combat the negativity.

"Elephant revival was a way to bring our community together to shed that perception," Rice says.

Eight colorful statues, nearly the size of a real baby elephant, now decorate downtown Erwin.

"Everyday you drive down Main Street and you see people having their picture taken besides the statues and smiling," she says.

Each statue was painted by a local artist, like 15-year-old Laura Lavinder from Bristol, Tennessee.

"All of it is pink and it has a big mandala on it's head," Lavinder says.

Each elephant is uniquely crafted, and each artist's inspiration is different.

"I wanted to make it inspired by an actual elephant so I looked online and I found these pictures from an Indian elephant parade celebration thing," she says. "It just looked really cool so I used it."

The fiberglass statues will be on display until October 21, when the town puts them up for a live auction. Rice says the bidding will start at $1,500, but they hope to get anywhere between $3,000 and $4,000 dollars apiece. All the money raised will be donated to The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee.

"They actually take care of retired captive of retired, captive, geriatric elephants," Rice says. "So what better way to honor Mary's memory than take care of elephants now."

If you cannot attend the auction in person, contact city hall and they'll provide you with a live bidder.

For more information on the Rise Erwin program, click here.

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