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In the morning Jameson and I went to the Mosaic District for lunch. We found awesome eats at True Food Kitchen (we've eaten there before with Jameson's mom). I had a buffalo burger with mushrooms and shaved parm on a very seedy bun! Sides were sweet potato hash and kale salad. Very tasty!

After that we went to Arlington National Cemetery. It was my first time there.
What a sobering and beautiful experience.

Jameson's grandparents are buried here. His grandfather served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. I was honored to be able to visit him and his wife Gloria.

I was awed by the sheer number of headstones, and considering that most stones bear at least two names, the number of people buried here is mind-boggling.

After paying our respects and visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, we decided to hit the road. I will never forget this experience, and hope that I will have another opportunity to visit Jameson's grandparents soon.

We drove a little more than halfway to Charleston, stopping in Morgantown WV before it got too late. Jameson had booked our hotel using Priceline's Express Deal, so we didn't really know what we were in for until we walked in the door. Hotel Morgan is a historic preservation, a beautiful old hotel with original brass fixtures and a vintage charm. What a great find!

The next day we did a little thrifting at some local retro video game stores. Jameson found some records. I found a clip-on tuner at a local music store. We reached Charleston about three hours ahead of the train and killed time at the local mall. When it was time for the animal walk, Jameson drove me to the yard. I hopped on the transport van while he waited for the coaches to be spotted.

This was the very last animal walk involving elephants, so the atmosphere was a little heavy and more pictures than usual were taken. As we waited for the animals to be unloaded, I chatted with some locals who had gathered to take in the spectacle. There were no protesters, which was really, really nice. Just excited parents, and awestruck children. I took pleasure in telling the kids about each animal, their names, little bits about their personalities, how old they were. I'll never forget the looks on their faces as Tonka, the lead elephant and the largest, came within a yard of where they were standing. It hurts to know that...well...never again.

(Ryan putting a headdress on Tonka. Photo courtesy Jonathan M.)

(Tonka and elephant crew, photo courtesy Lindsey M.)

From my boss, Brett:
"Having done the elephant walk on and off for the last 20 years, I'm kinda bummed that this will be the last one. They've ranged in distance from a few hundred yards to quite a few miles. I've walked beside the elephants mostly, but also by horses, minis, camels and even zebras (don't get me started). I've seen joy on literally thousands of faces, young and old. I've seen people crying, laughing, cheering and clapping. I'm going to miss the elephants. It never gets old, seeing them parade down the street to the adulation of the masses."
(The walk begins. Photo courtesy Rebecca W.)

From Jonathan M., animal specialist:
"My first elephant walk was April 27, 2004 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. My last elephant walk was tonight, April 19, 2016 in Charleston, West Virginia. That is twelve years of my life. End of an era. I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to work with these amazing animals and all of the people who have dedicated their lives to the health and care of these divas. Building their barns weekly, preparing their diets, all of their detailed foot care and countless other duties.

"Whatever your thoughts may be on animal rights vs animal welfare, animals in captivity, performing animals of any kind, I do not care. I have personally been involved in the animal's lives and their care every day for the last twelve years. The people I have worked with have missed vacations, missed weddings, lost a lot of sleep, days off, childrens' births, in the heat, in the rain, in tornado watches and freezing cold snow to be with the animals and make sure they are well.
"To the people I currently work with, and to those who have left the road over the years, thank you. Thank you for caring about the lives of these animals, thank you for all of the lessons I've learned from you, and thank you for all of your sacrifices."

(Red Unit elephant crew. Photo courtesy Ryan H.)

As you can imagine, this week and the next will be filled with photos, memories, thoughts, etc. on the elephants leaving the road. I will not be present for the elephants' final week of shows, but I still plan to write an elephant-related post next week. I hope you will enjoy these last elephant-filled moments with me :)

Anyway, the walk was easy, the weather was fine. By the time we were finished, the coaches were spotted. Jameson had thoughtfully brought my luggage inside, so I was able to unpack and collapse in bed.

The next day I had a lot of chores to catch up on. I did laundry, cleaned, packed for my sister's wedding, got groceries, changed my air filter...all kinds of stuff. Around 4:30pm I joined some dancers, clowns, and volunteers for an elephant brunch (since it was evening they called it "Dine with the Divas") on the street between the Charleston Civic Center and the mall. Hundreds of people were gathered to see the elephants.

Here are two local news articles related to the event (1, 2)

Bernice, one of our Pie Car chefs, got smart and got to a roof where he captured this great footage of us arriving:


Before the walk, a group photo:

(photo courtesy Ryan H.)

Off we go!

(photo courtesy Ryan H.)

Even a panorama shot couldn't capture the masses. Crowds lined the streets down to the intersections.

(photo courtesy Taylor A.)

The elephants begin their feast!

(photo courtesy Rob L.)

(photo courtesy Taylor A.)

Tonka makes her mark in cement that will be added to the sidewalk here in Charleston.

(photo courtesy Adria C.)

Watermelon time! It's always neat to watch the elephants smash the melons to get to the fruit!

(photo courtesy Rebecca W.)

After the event was over I got back to the train, paid a visit to Walmart, and went to bed early because we had a weird opening day starting with a sound check at 8:45am! For some reason we opened with a split, so there was an early and a late show, no rehearsal. Both shows were fine. During the break I went back to the train for some R&R.

Friday was the same, a split. After the first show I opted to stay at the arena, getting a haircut and doing a little shopping at the mall. The shows went well.

Saturday, three shows. The boat float (heehee) broke down and had to be repaired. Fortunately it doesn't play an essential role so the show went on just fine without it :P

(photo courtesy Applesauce)

Sunday, two shows. Between the shows I got word that the elephants were having some fun in the sun, and hoofed it over to the animal tents. Elephant crew had rigged a fire hose to shower the elephants, and the elephants were LOVING it. Here they are making happy noises :)

Mable trying to stuff a little tire into a big tire.

April smashing a tire into the ground!

It was strange to take these videos knowing that this would probably be the last time I'd get to see these ladies enjoying themselves with us, with the circus. I tried to enjoy every moment, and tried not to feel too sad.

After the last show Brett, Tim, Jameson, Chaz (drummer), Matt (keyboard) and I went to a place Tim found (Tim always seems to find amazing food) called Black Sheep Burritos and Brews. They've got some delicious creative twists on traditional Mexican food, plus their own brewery. Their wings are delicious too! Maddie, Ryan, and Kathryn from the PR department showed up a little later, and we combined our tables and had a good time :)

Now I'm at a hotel and going to sleep soon! Tomorrow Jameson and I are visiting an insane asylum (no, really!) and from there we'll make our way to Wilkes-Barre. This is the closest we'll ever get to my hometown. It will also be the week we say goodbye to our beautiful, unique, wonderful elephants. It will be the end of over 100 years of circus history.

In a strange twist of fate, my sister will be getting married this same week! That means I've got a substitute trombonist coming in to play the Wilkes-Barre shows while I go home to be a part of my sister's special day :) But don't worry...I'll be there for the elephants' last show!!

Other stuff:

The theme for the new elephant-less Blue Unit show has been announced!! SpaaaAAAAAAce!

Some local newspapers featuring the elephants:

(photos courtesy Nikki L.)

More photos of people with elephants. Everyone is spending as much time as possible with these amazing animals. We love them, and will miss them terribly.

(photos courtesy Lindsey M.)

(photo courtesy Brett, of his wife and son with Asia)

(photo courtesy Maddie P.)

(photo courtesy aniabelley88)

(photo courtesy Britney D.)

(photo courtesy Judah W.)

(photo courtesy Sergey K.)

Band group shot with Asia and Mable :)

(photo courtesy Jerome)

Last train run with elephants.

(photo courtesy Ryan H.)


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 25th, 2016 12:22 pm (UTC)
I'm so sad, I wont be able to see the elephants anymore. You have me nearly in tears reading about the last walk. :(

I would be really nice if Feld decided to open the elephant preserve (I forget what they are calling it) to the public, so people can still see these amazing beasts in person.

We will be at the 3PM show on Saturday May 7th in Manchester. I will look for you.
Apr. 26th, 2016 02:26 am (UTC)
Yeah, we're all pretty sad. But we're not just sad for us. We're also worried about the implications of this for other circuses, zoos, and those who work with and own animals.

Kenneth Feld has mentioned possibly opening the CEC to the public, but nothing definite. Currently it's pretty inaccessible, I think a lot of construction would have to be done before people could visit.

Cool! If you get there early enough send me a text and I'll come say hi!

Edited at 2016-05-24 03:28 am (UTC)
Jan Dykema
Apr. 25th, 2016 02:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you for writing the truth about the care and love these animals receive. It made me sad to read the headlines and the news never fails to pick up on a story like this while a better headline would have been Animal Rights Zealots Consign Elephants To Extinction.. with a picture of a poached elephant . Those of us who have been fighting these people and their philosophy of "separate and equal" meaning all animals are equal but no humans should interact with animals feel your pain. And we also know that elephants are just the beginning.. all other animals in your care will be targets.. just as all other marine mammals and fish will be the next targets at Seaworld. Time to educate the legislators and the public or rather past time.. Goodbye to the thrill of seeing an animal that will no longer be a part of any child life.. I am so happy that I was given a chance to see these creatures and others.. so that I can learn and care about them
Apr. 26th, 2016 02:33 am (UTC)
Thank you for sharing your feelings. I feel bad for anyone who didn't get to see the elephants before it was too late. Yes, you can see them elsewhere, but the circus is different. And as you say we don't know for how much longer we'll be able to see these animals in person.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )