Baraboo likely won’t accept an activist group’s offer to donate an elephant statue for display in a city park.
On Monday the Parks Commission voted to recommend that the Common Council reject People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ offer to temporarily place an elephant statue at Myron Park. Proposed in response to statues depicting circus elephants designed to celebrate the community’s circus heritage, PETA’s statue depicts a shackled elephant.
Commissioners expressed concern that accepting the statue could be seen as an endorsement of a political statement, and more requests might follow.
“I’ve tried to keep a real open mind on this,” said Commissioner James Francisco. “I can only see controversy leading to chaos.”
In December the city unveiled a baby elephant at the park off South Boulevard. This spring, local retiree Lucille Henry pledged $12,000 to add a mama elephant.
PETA, a vocal critic of using animals in performances, responded by offering to place a 5-foot-long, 175-pound fiberglass sculpture named Ella PhantzPeril at the park through the fall.
“She’s been a big success here in D.C., where tourists line up for photographs and schoolchildren learn about elephants and the circus,” Melanie Johnson of PETA wrote in an email to Baraboo Parks Director Mike Hardy. “We know that she’ll be a fan favorite in Baraboo too!”
Commissioners disagreed. They fretted over accepting a temporary gift, which would represent a departure from the city’s typical mode of operation, and bristled at wording on the statue, which reads in part “The circus is coming see/shackles/bullhooks/loneliness/all under the big top.”
A motion to accept the gift failed unanimously.
“It would be allowing a political statement,” said Commissioner Michael Plautz. “That does open up a huge area.”
PETA has offered to send similar sculptures across the country. The group placed one at a downtown St. Louis intersection in 2009 to protest a performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Elephant sculptures also made controversial stops in Washington, D.C., in 2002, New York City in 2007, Kansas City, Missouri, in 2009 and several other locations across the country.
The announcement isn’t the first time the national activist group has called its followers’ attention to a Baraboo organization. In 2015, Circus World leaders rejected an offer from PETA for funds to restore historic circus wagons in exchange for an agreement to stop using performing elephants at the site.