I binged on Pawtucket this week. I kept thinking of those files, those stacks of folders, just waiting to be mined by the right person- who happens to be- me. Although I had appointments here on the island or nearby every day, by Wednesday I exploded, rented a hotel room up north and headed for Pawtucket Public Library.

The files were no disappointment. Though I got a little weary of reading what seemed to be the same stories over and over, it suddenly occurred to me that I was reading the accounts of politics and impassioned advocacy with 20/20 hindsight. I knew what was going to happen. I knew that Fanny's last ten years would be happy and healthy and good for everyone all around. But Pawtucket, the mayor and concilmen, the public- none of them had any way of knowing (though they could hope) that it would all turn out for the best.

There had been a lot of problems at the zoo, after all. Vandals released Frosty the polar bear and he was shot in his tracks before the zoo folks could get a tranquilizer gun on the scene. Seven animals in the prairie exhibit died from various causes within a couple of months at the zoo due to the results of overcrowding, infant mortality, etc. A camel in rut went nuts and killed his keeper. One of the bears (it turned out later) had pancreatitis and died on his way to his relocation zoo. Fanny, even with her questionable surroundings, seemed to be on the winning end of things. Certainly she was in the hearts of Pawtucketers....

The 1992-93 fights to do the best by Fanny were a fascinating peek into the era. Fermenting partisanship against the animal rights folks and the hearts of the public with a dash of self-promotion along the way. Good hearts pretty much all the way around.

My list of people to contact grwos exponentially. I want to do a Man-in-the-street kind of thing at the zoo when the weather perks up and the leaves green out.

Thursday, Ray met me in Providence and we shot a talk with Chris Kane, the sculptor of the Fanny statue. I asked him what makes his statue Fanny, rather than a generic elephant. He did a lot of thinking and a lot of experimenting and a lot of examining of pictures of our heroine. He worked the eyes to reflect (pardon the pun) her gentle gaze, and created a special tool to try her head in all sorts of angles to get her just right. I can hardly wait to get back.

Size was an issue, Chris informed us. If he made her too large, she wouldn't be accessible to the kids he wanted to play on, under, around and through her. If he made her too small, she'd look like a toy. Even the shade of grey he used to paint her was a major consideration. Too light, and she became a plaything only. Too dark and she'd be forbidding. Although he originally envisioned her in bronze, lack of funds dictated Plan B, which was to go to fiberglass.

"In retrospect," he confided "It was totally the best decision because it really fit in with the surroundings and was more reasonable for the purpose. Bronze gets too hot in the summer for the kids to touch, and looks too old fashioned to fit into the modern surroundings."

So I continue, and will be burning the phone wires this week all the way to Pawtucket.

More as things develop.


desl504 said...

I grew up in Cumberland so my parents would take me to Slater Park all the time when I was a little boy. I fondly remember Fanny and how excited I was to see her whenever we used to go to the zoo. I now have children of my own and we go to the playground every so often and we see Fanny now in her statue form. Even though my kids have never met Fanny I see a little glimmer of what I used to feel like when I saw her at the zoo. Fanny will always be part of Rhode Island and anyone who ever 'met' her. I look forward to seeing this documentary.

stephen fay said...

what a wonderful idea to do a story which includes fanny! i grew up in rumford which is right on the pawtucket line and i visited fanny numerous times with my family. my love for elephants is a direct result of the interaction i had with fanny. as a child around 1970 i would ride my bike to slater park and hang out with fanny and watch her interact with the zoo keepers as well as the public. it seemed that whenever i went with treats fanny seemed to know who i was. being that there were always circuses around i watched trainers with elephants and decided as a 12 year old i could teach fanny to do tricks just like the circus. on saturday mornings i would go to see fanny armed with peanuts and before you knew it she would do tricks like lift her front foot or curling her trunk up high in the air before i would give her treats. then as people would come and crowd around fanny i would step in and show fanny off by getting her to do tricks with me in charge. what a thrill for a 12year old boy. i moved to narragansett in 1974 and didn't go to the zoo much after that but some time during the late 80's i went back to see fanny armed with peanuts and after spending a while just talking to her and her just looking at you i felt like she remembered me and before you knew it i was showing my son how fanny did tricks just like way back in my child hood.there are other interesting tidbits about fanny that seemed to have coincided with my life that i would like to share with the author.

Anonymous said...

I thought I would convey an elephant story that took place in RI thirty years ago, in Providence though not Pawtucket.

I was a teenager living on College Hill, on the East side of Providence, and walked to a friend's house on Arlington Ave (I believe) to drink beer and party.

Well I made it there as night was falling, it was late Spring, 1978 and there was a tremendous amount of fog forming. As it were both inside and outside my head.

Well we finished up partying and I had to get home so I headed out after consuming enough beer and other unmetionables to get pretty wasted. It was well after midnight and I was the only person on the street, traffic was light probably because of the fog.

The shortest distance home from my friend with the beer's house necessitated that I take a shortcut across Dexter Field, the Brown University playing fields on the corner of Lloyd and Hope behind the Mehan rink and the field houses.

The fog was thicker than ever, and after getting about halfway across the field, I realized I couldn't see the other side, nor could I see the end of the field where I had come from. There were lights that light up the fog, but I was still unable to see the source. It was very surreal - was fogbound in the middle of Dexter Field. I found myself wandering in different directions looking for any sort of landmark that would point me in the right direction. I had walked this route countless times the last time being just six hours earlier on my way to my friends to get into trouble. Eventually either the fog lifted or I realized I was getting closer to one of the lamp posts in the parking lot on the other side of the field (the side I was trying to get to). As I approached the edge of the field I walked cautiously as I knew there might be some construction material, or curbing etc. and I was drunk, I could see forms , but I couldn't make out what they were. I saw a trailer, which I guess must have been a ticket booth or something. As I approached the edge of the parking lot slowly I noticed some strange shape about 30 yards away, It was large and swaying. I couldn't imagine what it was thought it might be a balloon but then I heard footfall. As I approached I was amazed to see the silhouette of two elephants standing in front of me, the eerie halide lights of the parking lot behind them created a halo around them, they using their trunks to eat hay from a bale.
I thought I was hallucinating and made a note to myself to call my friend after I got home and tell him that the stuff he had provided me had been laced with something much stronger. That would have explained getting lost in the fog, my compromised mind rationed.
As I stood there waiting for this image to dissolve and wondering what would be foisted upon my psyche next, it hit me, either this was really strong stuff or these were real elephants. I walked up to them in amazement, trying to hypothesize why there could be elephants standing in front of me. The elephants swayed and started to stomp a little more, so I thought I would take some space. I and stood there for what seemed like a half hour admiring these beautiful creatures, and the absurdity of the moment.
By and by the fog lifted for a brief second and I had my answer. Painted on the side of the trailer was the unmistakable logo of the Ringling Brother's and Barnum and Bailey's Circus.
I eventually left chuckling to myself, wishing that I had a companion to share one of the strangest moments of my life with. I read in the paper when I got home that the circus was in town, and realized that they must have sought some open space in the city to house the elephants.

I wanted to tell you may story, I thought you and your readers might appreciate it.

Good luck with your project.

- and Kids: Don't do drugs.