World's Largest Horse: West Virginia State Farm Museum
Point Pleasant, West Virginia
Charlie the caretaker roars out on his ATV to greet us. The West Virginia State Farm Museum normally isn't open on Mondays, but we've called ahead and the management has generously offered to have Charlie show us around.
The museum spreads across 50 acres and has 36 buildings, including a log cabin, an old schoolhouse, a doctor's office, blacksmith shop, post office, and barbershop. There are displays of threshing machines, cultivators, tractors, carriages, sewing machines, tools, bottle and jars. All of which, frankly, are not that interesting unless you're into the history of American farming.
Charlie, sensing our disappointment, offers some suggestions.
"There's a lot of stuff here that you won't see anywhere else," he insists. He mentions an old Lutheran church building, supposedly the first one west of the Allegheny Mountains "and the only church with a gun rack in it." Charlie also tells us of a clothes dryer from the 1700s, "the oldest one in existence." That sounds promising. "Does it have a sign, saying that?" we ask. Well, Charlie answers, no.
There are, however, items of merit here, and Charlie is happy to lead us to them. For example, tucked away in a small stable by the rest rooms, is the World's Largest Stuffed Horse.
"General," who looks like Mr. Ed, was the third heaviest (2850 pounds) and third tallest (six feet, six inches) horse ever recorded. And he is still the world's largest stuffed horse, at a cost of $10,000, according to one of the many helpful signs around the stable. Despite his size, another sign insists that General was "gentle as a puppy." Yet another sign claims that his stuffed hide is valued at $25,000, a low estimate in our eyes. A newspaper clipping from 1982 quotes a local bigwig as saying that General, once stuffed, would make a sure-fire tourist attraction.
Several buildings over from the stable stands what looks like a weathered wooden trailer. It's the Morgan Museum, "one of West Virginia's finest collections" according to a sign hanging from it, and another high point of our visit. It's dark inside, and claustrophobic. Visitors have only a narrow passageway, hemmed in on either side by floor-to-ceiling walls of chicken wire. Beyond, on dusty shelves in the gloom, are row after row of dead birds and forest creatures.
Sydney Morgan, the story goes, was a farmer's son -- but all he wanted to do was to kill animals and stuff them. After his dad died, Sydney began selling off the farm to pay for his hobby. By the 1960s he had only four acres left -- out of an original 1,500 -- but he also had this building, full of trophies, that he operated as a museum. When he died his museum was moved here, enabling new generations to admire his work. We were especially intrigued by several of his nontraditional mounted heads (including a wild pig and a pelican), the last elk killed in West Virginia (by Sydney Morgan, in 1912), and a two-headed calf that froze to death in 1926. The specimens are identified with hand-written paper tags.
Charlie, eager to help, is willing to cross the line with us. "You ever touch a bear?" he asks, conspiratorially, pointing to a stuffed black bear in the shadows.
"I bet you think their fur is hard as sandpaper, don't you?" he says.
Well, no, actually, we figured that bears have soft fur -- like teddy bears. But Charlie is opening a door in the chicken wire, and we want to get inside to take better photos, so what the heck. We'll pet the bear.
Charlie directs our way with a flashlight. We gingerly pat the long-dead bear. "Son-of-a-gun, it's soft!" we declare. Charlie grins in triumph.
After taking all the photos that we need, we wave goodbye to Charlie and he roars off on his ATV, happy to get back to his television and his air conditioned trailer on his day off.