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Holy Cow! Iconic sign still standing

on Tuesday, 10 September 2019. Posted in Columns, Opinions

Holy Cow! Iconic sign still standing

Making small talk before church Sunday last, the conversation turned toward the ever-so-slow eminent doom of Hurricane Dorian.

“Hey Tommy, I’ve got a question for you,” I quizzed a local cattle farmer. “What do you do with your cows during hurricanes?”

His response surprised me.

“I just leave them,” he said matter-of-factly. “If it gets too bad they’re smart enough to know how to get to the barn.”

The thought never occurred to me that you would leave livestock out in the field to fend for themselves during a storm with high winds and heavy rainfall. My mind immediately went to the movie, “Twister.” I know, it’s about a tornado and not a hurricane, but I could not get the image of a flying cow out of my mind. A random memory of cow-tipping also crept in, but that had more to do with foolishness than foul weather and was immediately dismissed.

Not that I doubted Tommy’s wisdom since he surely knows far more about cattle and how to maintain them than me, but I had to go online to gain further insight. Sure enough, Tommy wasn’t just shooting me a line of bull. Conventional wisdom says cattle can better weather serious storm, even hurricanes, out in the open. Go figure.

The following day I was “udderly” stunned by more information about cows and hurricanes. Apparently not all cows are better off fending for themselves when a big one blows in.

Several friends from Charleston offered these warnings on their Facebook pages:

“It’s about to get real. The Cow has been taken down.” “The Cow has been evacuated.”

“Oh Dear Lord! When The Cow comes down, its time to worry.”

Accompanying each post was a photo of an enormous fiberglass bovine, the Holy City’s much beloved Coburg Cow.

Some cows, it appears, do get special treatment.

When serious storms are forecast, such as Dorian, the Borden Dairy Co. of South Carolina takes no chances, charging a few employees with rustling the cow to safer pastures. The company, it seems, recognizes the significance of The Cow to the locals and knows it would never be forgiven if “Bessie” (yes, that’s its real name) met her demise.

The Cow has weathered a few storms. In 1989, Coburg officials had the foresight to take the beloved bovine down as Hurricane Hugo approached. Once the storm had passed, she again took her rightful place on the rooftop.

The Cow was taken down again last year in the days before Hurricane Florence arrived. And a week ago this past Monday, with Hurricane Dorian churning up the East Coast, Bessie was hauled down one more time.

The Coburg Cow even has its own Twitter account. Its bio reads: “Don’t have a cow, man.”

This obviously, my friends, is no ordinary cow, and it has survived more than hurricanes over the years.

In 1959, the Coburg Dairy, in business since the 1920s, wanted a unique sign, something that would attract attention to their business. The life-size cow, which stands attached on a spinning disc, was placed alongside a giant “C” for Coburg sign and an oversized bottle of milk. The Cow quickly caught the attention of those passing through the West Ashley neighborhood.

A fad involving The Cow caught on with local students and cadets from The Citadel and things began to, shall we say, spin out of control. The students and cadets began climbing the sign to ride the now famous heifer. Taking a spin on “Bessie” became a fun, but still illegal, rite of passage of sorts, for Charleston’s young people.

Frank Hankel, the former owner of the dairy, has said two people have been arrested for riding The Cow over the years, one of which was his own daughter.

In 1992, a cadet from The Citadel fell off during a ride on Halloween night. Both the cadet and The Cow were injured. Cadets from The Citadel raised $4,000 to pay for repairs and then held a restoration ceremony, complete with bagpipes and a 21-gun salute.

In 2011, the Borden Dairy Company purchased the Coburg Dairy Co. Locals feared a name change for The Cow would follow, as Borden is a national franchise with a cow of its own, Elsie. Borden officials became aware of The Cow’s connection to the community and wisely pledged to let her be.

Ol’ Bessie has certainly lived an eventful life, and it appears she’s not done yet. Dorian has passed, making its way up the East Coast before swirling back into the Atlantic, and The Cow is back where she should be, grazing alongside Savannah Highway.

The next time you get wind of a tropical storm or a potential hurricane on the horizon, don’t wait for a Jim Cantore sighting or the latest update from The Weather Channel to know when to take shelter. Just look to the sky and see if Bessie’s still standing.

If the cow’s not up, it’s time to hunker down.

Contact Editor Bob Sloan at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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