The news is that an elephant has come to Deep River. It has arrived from Thailand by way of Newport , Rhode Island , and it will be here to stay. And it’s all made possible by the Deep River Rotary Club.
But it is not a live elephant, which would have some difficulty in the winter weather of Connecticut . This one is bronze and will last at least a century, and probably much longer. It’s a statue–about one-sixth the actual size of the living African elephant it depicts. But it will be a reminder to visitors and residents of this river town of the important role played by elephants in the history of Deep River .
The Rotary Club believes that this bronze statue will help to educate young and old about the importance of the ivory trade to the development of industry, commerce, and culture in the Valley Shore area–and particularly Deep River . Here factories prospered, manufacturing piano keys and other ivory products, such as combs and buttons. Long before the development of plastics (of which these items are now made) these products depended on the importing of ivory tusks from Zanzibar and other ports in Africa .
The negative side of this story is that our industry depended on the hunting of elephants for their tusks and the use of slaves for the transportation of the tusks. As we remember with gratitude the role of this beautiful animal in the development of our community, we will also remember the price which was paid for our prosperity. The statue will continue to remind us of that story in all its dimensions.
John LaPlante, a resident of Deep River and a member of the Deep River Rotary Club, conceived the idea of bringing this statue to town when he stumbled upon it in the lot at Aardvark Antiques in Newport , R.I. He challenged the club to bring this iconic figure to a place of honor in our community, and he led the financial negotiations to acquire the elephant.
First Selectman Dick Smith and members of the town crew traveled to Newport to bring her back, along with a granite block on which she will rest. A welcoming committee of Rotarians was on hand at the Town Hall, along with Marilyn Malcarne and a group of fifers and drummers to create a festive atmosphere.
Robert Johnson, who has been selling real estate in the area for more than 60 years, was on hand, too. He clapped his hands and announced that the would make the first contribution to what will be the Elephant Fund. “I love the statue!” he said. “What a great idea!”
The permanent location for the elephant has not yet been announced. Several locations are being considered, but a formal dedication and celebration will take place in the Spring. “It will be a lot of fund,” said John LaPlante, who recalled that the elephant is a reminder of the prosperous days when Deep River was known as the “Queen of the Valley.” “One thing is for sure. Deep River is becoming Queen of the Valley again. Everybody is noticing that. This is one more way to celebrate that!”