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.