Monday, February 12, 2007

Erwin Elephant Hanging Hits The Stage

It's an amazing story from the history of Tennessee - an elephant named Mary charged with murder, convicted and then hung from a crane. Brittney at NiT today has a YouTube video about a new play about this event, penned by a Nashville writer and staged by the People's Branch Theatre in March.

It's a story rife with legend and myth but the fact remains the elephant was tried and convicted and hung by the neck.

It also reminds me of yet another of those Personally Embarassing Moments from the Past.

Back in college at ETSU I had a Basic Speech class and one of the first assignments was to write an 8 to 10 minute humorous speech. I had just learned of what happened in Erwin back in 1916 and decided the tragedy was perfect for a humorous speech. (yeah, now I see the lack of logic in my plan.)

I decided to write a speech lampooning the entire event, using as a premise that the elephant was really a member of a secret terrorist organization called the PLO - Pachyderm Liberation Organization. I remember writing a (what seemed to me) long and funny account of this organization, angry elephants and bizarre characters.

So on the day of my speech, convinced of my brilliant comedic ideas, I volunteered to be the first to give an example of humorous writing. Within seconds, my "best material" was offered up and I glanced around the room waiting for a single glimmer of laughter. I got zip, nada, nothing. I quickly continued, again, quite sure this was comedy gold I was offering -- and got more nothing. I even sensed a bit of anger from the professor of the class.

My speech became a two-minute-oh-god-let-me-just-finish-the-thing affair and I ran back to my seat as fast as I could, wondering if my bright-red face might actually explode from shame.

Got an F for that speech. Not funny and too short, said the professor.

Being a witless freshman, my approach to resolving this was to never, ever go to that class again. I did however, appear in the professor's office on the next to last day of class and begged for an Incomplete.

"Oh, you," he said when I arrived.

He heard my plea, had mercy and did give me that Incomplete on one condition. He said he was teaching a summer course on Politics and Media, and needed more students in the class in order to get the amount of pay he wanted from the administration.

"Enroll and attend this summer course and I'll give you the same grade for both classes," was his offer. I saw it for Extreme Mercy and embraced the deal.

That class had no tests, no textbook and was mostly a one night a week deal where myself and others in debt to the professor would gather and talk about what we had seen on TV that week that might be politically oriented. He often dismissed the class after 10 or 15 miinutes and said the class could move, if anyone desired, to his favorite bar. I was too frightend to dabble with our deal and he kinda scared me so I never went with other classmates to the bar.

But I got an A in both classes.

So in many ways, Mary the elephant and her demise was the beginning of my political education.


  1. I think the idea works, the delivery would have to have perfect timing and point of view to work well. It is a funny/strange story of ill placed anger, reminds me of Iraq as well.

  2. Wow. My big speech in speech class was about the Khmer Rouge. It didn't get any laughs either.

  3. Ouch.

    Sorry I haven't been around, sweetie. So busy!

  4. Not a problem, ms mcgee -- i know what you are doing that has you most busy: you are educating young minds in school in the ways of math.

    cheers to you!!!!

  5. Anonymous3:39 PM

    in alabama i think you have to hard boil and stuff a clown just to receivce a "c". times are getting harder! RR