Paces slow down, heads turn and curious shoppers peer through storefront windows to marvel at – not one elephant in the room – but rather 2,772 assorted elephant trinkets, and counting.
Sixty-year-old Andy Swan, clown and CEO of the Swan Brothers Circus from North Highlands, has been collecting all things elephant-related for 40 years. He is currently attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the largest elephant collection as a tribute to his late brother, who passed away last December.
Swan created a store-sized display case at the Westfield Downtown Plaza Mall for his growing elephant collection. Stuffed animals, statues, models, clothing, pictures, books, greeting cards, posters and other elephant paraphernalia line the walls, floors and tables in the store.
Swan – known as “Zippy” when performing – and his brother, Mike “Hi-Tops” Swan, co-owned the two-man Swan Brothers Circus. The brothers specialized in juggling acts, comedic performances and comedy magic shows.
“We had 37 great years (running the circus) together, and I wanted to celebrate his life,” Swan said. “We’ve always talked about getting into the ‘Guinness Book of World Records.’ ”
The current record is 5,775, held by a woman named Jan Briley – known as Elephant Lady – who has been collecting since 1972. Swan said it took Briley a year to count her collection.
Swan is in the process of counting each item in his collection. He labels each piece with a numbered sticker. In two weeks, Swan counted 2,772 elephants.
Most pieces in Swan’s collection are “secondhand elephants,” he said. He finds them at thrift stores and Salvation Army stores. Others are donated from people interested in helping his cause. Swan said he likes to think he is giving discarded elephants a second chance.
He estimates having well over 6,000 elephants – enough to beat Briley’s record – though he doesn’t plan on officially submitting his collection until he reaches 10,000.
What’s visible through his store window, Swan said, is only about half of his collection. He has many more elephants behind curtains in the back of the store, in his garage and in a large storage unit.
“I was collecting these elephants in my house and just putting them in boxes,” Swan said. “You don’t realize how many you have while you’re collecting them.”
Swan’s love for elephants began in 1970 while he was working as a juggler for the DeWayne Brothers Circus in Oregon.
“We had an elephant there – Bimbo the elephant,” Swan said. “I helped take care of him a lot. I really grew to love Bimbo, so that’s kind of why I started collecting.
“They say ‘collect what you love,’ ” Swan added. “And that’s what I’m doing.”
Swan got the idea to display his collection at the mall in February after seeing signs that management was looking for creative ideas to bring in tenants and customers.
He proposed his idea to the officials at Westfield Downtown Plaza and told them about his plan to beat the Guinness World Record. Since then, he has been in the ongoing process of packing and moving his collection into the store.
“I’m like a little ant getting ready for winter,” he said. “It’s a big chore.”
Large, colorful posters and signs decorate the front windows of the display. They read, “Andy Swan – Guinness World Record for most elephants?” and “The elephants are here!”
While Swan is working in the store, he said he sees shoppers look in and wonder what’s going on in the elephant-filled room.
Maria DeLeon, 30, food service and janitorial worker at Westfield Downtown Plaza, said she passes by Swan’s display often.
“Every time I walk by, I look in,” she said. “It’s the most elephants I’ve ever seen. Pretty much everyone always stops and looks in and wonders what’s going on in there.”
Woodland resident Tracy Jordan and her two daughters Taylor Sneed, 13, and Troi Sneed, 17, passed by the display for the first time on Aug. 5.
“Wow,” was all they could say to describe the display at first. They said they were in disbelief at the sight of all the elephants.
“You could tell there is some history behind them,” Jordan said. “Just by looking, you can see these are not elephants from 2011. It’s like they just go way back in time.”
The first elephant pieces that started the collection, Swan said, were five photographs he took with Bimbo forty years ago. His favorite piece is a 20-year-old elephant made of peanut shells and hot glue by his brother Mike. The peanut-sculpted elephant, he said, is right by the front door of the store.
Swan occasionally allows curious passers-by to step inside the first few feet of the store to take a quick look at the collection without the glass windows in between. He said he likes giving people a chance to have a closer look and a better appreciation for the collection.
“I’m inspired by all the people walking by and looking through the window,” Swan said. “I love letting other people enjoy it. I really enjoy watching people’s faces when they’re looking at these elephants. I think anybody that has a collection wants other people to be able to enjoy it too.”
To see the elephant collection for yourself, visit the upper level of Westfield Downtown Plaza at 547 L St.
To keep track of Andy Swan’s progress, check out his website.