August 16, 2022

Deep River Rotary’s Elephant Goes Public

People rushed over to see it when the elephant arrived from Newport, R.I. last December.

Finally the statue of the elephant that will grace Deep River for years and years to come will make its first big appearance on Sunday, June 12.

The long-awaited debut will at the Deep River Rotary Club’s 38th annual Antique Car Show. The show will be at Devitt Field on Main Street from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The show draws many people. The club felt this was the right moment. The club purchased the elephant last December and is finalizing plans for it. It has wintered safely in the town barn thanks to the cooperation of the Town. The plans will be announced as they develop. And that will be as soon as possible. “There is huge interest,” said Hedy Watrous, club president. “I keep getting questions about it at the Whistle Stop.” It is her restaurant.

I can say the same thing. I am chairman of the project for the club. People keep asking me, “What is it all about? Where are you going to put it? When?”  Well, I’ll be standing there right by the elephant at the car show. I’ll field all the questions.  It will be shown mounted on its big granite pedestal. The granite was a separate purchase. The work was completed just recently at the town barn.

Some folks always bring their camera. So many interesting cars. I’ll be glad to take a picture for any person or family who want to be photographed patting the elephant or hamming it up next to it. They can’t do much harm. It’s made of bronze, which lasts and lasts. It’s one thing that impressed the club.

Why this statue?  For more than a century making things out of ivory was the big business principally in Deep River and also Ivoryton next door.  The ivory came from the tusks of elephants. It was the best material for many items. The best known of them became the keys that make up piano keyboards. This became a very big business—the Pratt Read factory on Main Street (now Piano Works Condominiums) is still the biggest building by far in plain sight.

Pratt Read made the “actions” for pianos—all the moving parts. They put these actions in pianos bearing their name. They also sold these actions to other makers all over the country for the pianos they were making under their name.
 It’s that business that made Deep River the Queen of the Valley back then. (Which it is becoming again, by the way. My opinion.)

Many folks in town know that and are proud of it. But many do not. Especially our young people.  To make this known as an everyday fact is the main reason Deep River Rotary is doing this.

It has another reason. The elephants had to be hunted for us to get this ivory, of course. It came from their tusks. We regret that today. It was considered all right back then.  So was killing buffalo—we nearly wiped them out. So was chasing whales for their oil. So was shooting and trapping fox and mink and beaver and other animals for their fur. So was killing many other animals for their meat and their skin (leather). That hasn’t changed, of course.

So the club sees this as an opportunity to pay homage to the elephant and recognize it for the huge chapter it played in our town’s history.   A lot of towns around here have a sailing ship proudly printed on their official stationery. Sailing ships were so important. They were important in Deep River also—they brought the tusks here from Africa.

We, too, show a sailing ship on our town stationery. Shouldn’t we change that to an elephant? After all, it’s a fact that no other town in the country can make the same boast about having been the capital of the ivory-working industry.

“Where will the elephant be put? When?” These are the big questions now. So is another, “Where did you find it?”
We’re deciding where right now. Six sites have been suggested. The place chosen must meet some important requirements. Be safe. Be permanent–we’ll have the elephant for a hundred years or more. Be easily visible to the public year-round. Have a well-maintained site (a neat lawn, for one thing). Have electricity for illumination. And water—the elephant spurts water from its trunk (it’s a fountain). Have easy parking. And others.

“When?” We want to get the project finished as soon as practical. There is more to it than it seems. We want to do it right. Probably late summer. It will be a big public event. Lots of fun. We’ll alert you all.

Where did we find it? At a store in Newport, R.I., called Aardvark Antiques. It is worth a visit by anybody happening to be in the area. Easy to find.

I’ll also be eager to pick up suggestions at the car show. I’ll write them down and pass them on to the club. As I said, we are all striving to do this right.

You’ll also have great fun checking out the cars. The show attracts many people. After all, this is the 38th annual one! (All the thought and work that go  into it is a story by itself.)

Admission is $3, free for children 12 and younger. It’s a big fund-raiser for the club. As always, every dollar is used for good works.