Sunday, July 15, 2012

Cow Appreciation Day: Elsie and Elmer

On my calendar of unusual holidays, July 15 is listed as “Cow Appreciation Day.” 

I guess we’re supposed to give a thought to all the products cows give us and be thankful to them, and in the midst of yet another heat wave, I have to say I’m very grateful for ice cream. But this holiday started me thinking about a cow, or a bull actually, that I’ve always felt got shortchanged in the annals of history. 

At the 1939 New York World’s Fair the Borden Company set up a herd of dairy cows in a demonstration to show how cows are milked. When visitors kept asking which cow was their advertising symbol, Elsie, Borden decided to “milk” that interest. They brought in a cow from a farm in New Jersey whose real name was “You’ll Do Lobelia” (what was the farmer thinking?) and renamed her “Elsie.”

Then they went a step further and built her a boudoir and created a whole story around her.

She was a megahit, so they decided to give her a husband, a bull named Elmer. Elmer came from the estate of Marshall Field (of department store fame) on Long Island, and his real name was “Dynamo.”

He was featured in ads with Elsie but never received the same attention as her. After the fair Elsie toured the country in a custom 18-wheeler (the “Cowdillac”) and starred in an RKO feature called “Little Men.” Unfortunately, in 1941 her truck was hit by another truck on Route 25 in Rahway, New Jersey and she was fatally injured. She was buried in a marked grave on the Walker-Gordon farm in Plainsboro, New Jersey. Today that property is a townhome community and the headstone has been moved, but it is still preserved and the town maintains a museum dedicated to Elsie the Cow.

So what happened to Elmer/Dynamo? He apparently retired to Field’s estate to live out his life, and eventually was buried somewhere on the property. A shared gravestone in the middle of the dairy field is the only reference to Dynamo, along with a small photo in the visitor center that mentions his stint at the World’s Fair.

Imagine thinking you’re a bull who stands head and shoulders above the rest because you’ve been plucked from your home to be a star at a world class event, and then suddenly it all ends, you’re thrust back into your field, and you live out your life in obscurity with only a one line obituary (and the dubious honor of being associated with a glue product) to attest to your moment in the spotlight.

So today I’m going to be toasting Elmer in honor of all those who walk in the shadows of other’s spotlights with their own talents largely unappreciated.

Stretch says he understands my feelings about Elmer, but today he’s going to show his cow friend Bessie that he appreciates her. . .

. . .and then he’s going to sit back and enjoy an ice cream cone under a shady tree in this latest heat wave.


curram said...

When I saw the title I thought you were going to talk about this

Cathy Scibelli said...

That's funny! I can see why you were misled--you know it wouldn't take much to convince me to get a cow costume and join the party. lol

Cathie Starnes said...

Thank you so much for sharing. I had no idea about the World's Fair and Elsie's bedroom. I love, love, love things from that period and appreciate the history lesson. So sad how she passed, but Elmer's story is sad, too.

Cathy Scibelli said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this story Cathie! I share your love of the history of this time period. So many of the "modern" icons we take for granted were created back then. And as I mentioned, I always thought poor Elmer didn't get the recognition he deserved.