From: Road Tripper
How a Tennessee town turned its tragic past into a colorful art installation
A series of fiberglass elephant statues, decorated by local artisans, populate Erwin’s Main Street every summer
I’m strolling along Main Street in Erwin, Tennessee, as the sun flares behind the mountains to the west. It looks like any ordinary downtown: brick buildings from the dawn of the train era; an antique store and a shoe repair and saddle shop; a handful of bright, sleek cafes that I’d seen advertised on the Appalachian Trail, which skirts the town. Fast food restaurants glitter past the railroad tracks down by the interstate and vending machines sell Dr. Enuf, a soda popular in this part of the country.
But I’ve come to this street in search of what distinguishes Erwin from its neighbors: a collection of elephant statues, shellacked and painted in an array of dazzling colors, that appear in the town’s business district every summer. If you saw these elephants without context, you might not realize that these adorable, doe-eyed statues were conceived as a positive twist on a dark chapter of Erwin’s history.