ELLERBE — The memory of André the Giant will never fade from the town of Ellerbe.
Jackie Mcauley and the Rankin Museum in Ellerbe is looking to make sure of that. The museum plans to set establish an exhibit to celebrate the life of Andre Roussimoff, the former World Wrestling Federation star, now that the museum is in permanent possession of some of André’s memorabilia.
McAuley, a longtime friend of André’s who moved to the area in 1980 to help André take care of his 46-acre ranch on the outskirts of Ellerbe,where he spent the last 10 years of his life. André died in 1993 at the age of 46. His ashes were scattered over his Ellerbe ranch.
McAuley recently made a trip down memory lane as she began to pull some of the wrestler’s clothing and items from her attic. She wanted to make sure that these items were available not just for her, but for all those who still remain fans of the Gentle Giant.
“I was reading a thread on the Internet a few years ago where fans of André’s were sad that there was no picture or monument of him in the town of Ellerbe,” McAuley said. “It really got to me and I knew I couldn’t hold on to these items. I needed to let people see them.”
McAuley pulled down from her attic wrestling costumes, boots, movie posters, photos, action figures, books, a trophy and a ring — a ring so big it could fit two fingers on a average human being. After sorting through a number of items, McAuley made the trip to the museum to donate all of the items.
“What we hope to do is put together a collection for André the Giant,” said Gail Benson, museum curator. “All the details haven’t been worked out, it depends on what the museum board decides, but we know we want to do André justice. We want to showcase him as an actor and as a wrestler.”
André stood at an enormous 7 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 500 pounds. He was a French American professional wrestler and actor. He is most famously known for is role as Fezzik in the movie “The Princess Bride” — a cult classic film that continues to draw new fans to André. He is also part of the record for one of the largest indoor sporting events in North America, Wrestlemania III, where he faced off against Hulk Hogan in front of a crowd of 93,173 paying customers.
While André spent much of his time in the spotlight, he enjoyed spending downtime on his ranch near the town of Ellerbe. McAuley said it was here that he could truly get away and just be himself.
“He loved the feeling he had around Ellerbe,” McAuley said. “It reminded him of the town he grew up in. The people here respected him, and he didn’t feel as if he was being stared at every time he went out in town.”
Benson said that the museum has had a number of people that have come in interested in anything concerning André including people who have met him and knew him before he passed away in 1993.
Jesse Wimberley, outreach coordinator for the Sandhills Heritage Gateway initiative, said that there are so many interested in where André spent his time when he wanted to get away from it all. André lived off of N.C. Route 73, also known as the Indian Heritage Trail. It was there where he lived a normal life.
“There’s just so many people who don’t realize that was where he chose to spend his quality time,” Wimberley said. “It’s just one of the many back stories for the Indian Heritage Trail.”
Right now Wimberely and those with the initiative are pointing interested visitors to the Rankin Museum for further details on André, but Wimberely is not opposed to doing something more ambitious in the future to highlight the area.
“There was so much more to him than owning a house in Ellerbe,” Wimberely said. “He was a member of the community. He was a very approachable, regular kind of guy.”
McAuley is hoping that the collection at the museum will only continue to grow so that it will be there for any fan who wants to get to know André a bit more.