Largest Ball Of String, Not Twine
Back in the 1950s, a man named Finley Stephens opened the Gateway to the West Museum in an old barn in the tiny town of Weston, Missouri. He had many odd treasures, including a pair of bib overalls for a 15-foot-tall giant, and a double-barreled shotgun as long as a car. But his prize possession was his huge ball of string, 19 feet around. It weighed 3,712 pounds.
Stephens made his Ball in a time when people mailed their packages tied with thin, postal string. He had postmasters from every neighboring town save string for him. According to Patrick O'Malley, who bought the Museum from Stephens in 1973, "It finally got to the point where the only way that he could add to the ball was to take it to a nearby tobacco warehouse and roll it on the floor."
"It was quite an attraction in a town of 1,400 people," Patrick said.
With the change of ownership, Stephens stopped adding to his ball, and then he died. The Museum closed. The bib overalls and the shotgun were sold off. But the Ball remained -- two tons of anything tends to stay put.
The barn is now occupied by the America Bowman Restaurant and O'Malley's Irish Pub, which keeps the Ball where it's been since the Bicentennial -- shackled to a small red, white, and blue platform on wheels, in a walled-off back room. This isolation in space and time has preserved the Ball, which has never gotten wet or musty (although it does smell like old mail). Finley's creation remains nearly perfectly round, and wound tight enough to stop a bazooka shell.
When we last spoke with the O'Malleys, they had removed a side wall of the barn and were preparing to wheel the Ball into a specially-designed, glass-sided viewing room. "You want to have people to be able to see it, but you don't want people pullin' at it," said Patrick. Oh, right -- this is an Irish pub.
When the move is complete, the Ball will be back in public view for the first time in over 30 years.
Finley's Ball is probably the largest ball of string (as opposed to rope or yarn or plastic cord) in the world, distinguishing it from the creations of compulsive twine winders such as James Kotera, or Frank Stoeber, or Francis Johnson. "It may not be the largest diameter ball," said Sean O'Malley, Patrick's son, "but it's not a lot of thick rope filler. No baling twine. This is all string. This is the real deal."