Tombstone of Elsie the Cow
Plainsboro, New Jersey
Plainsboro, NJ, has tourism gold beneath its soil, yet the community has been slow to mine it. That gold is the calcifying corpse of Elsie the Cow, at one time the most recognized and beloved advertising symbol in the world.
Before Joe Camel, before the Energizer Bunny, there was Elsie. Elsie was the spokesanimal for Borden Milk, and she became a real cow in 1939. It happened this way....
Borden wanted to have a topnotch dairy exhibit at the 1939 New York World's Fair, so they had built a " Rotolactor:" a giant, glass enclosed turntable on which cows were milked by automated machines. It was very futuristic and a hit with fairgoers, but it was only used twice a day -- during milking -- and crowds were thin in-between. Searching for a solution, Borden's ad agency scanned a list of questions asked by visitors. They were amazed to find that six out of every ten asked, "Which cow is Elsie?" -- an animal that existed only in a series of cartoon magazine ads for Borden milk. The agency combed the Borden herd of 150 Fair cows and quickly settled on a good-natured, big-eyed Jersey named "You'll Do Lobelia." She was rechristened Elsie, put on the Rotolactor between milkings, and a celebrity was born. By the time the Fair closed in 1940, "Elsie" had become its #1 attraction.
Borden milked "You'll Do Lobelia" for every quart of PR she could deliver. She was the guest of honor at press dinners in swank New York clubs. She starred in an RKO feature, "Little Men," in 1940. She made a series of cross-country appearances in her custom 18-wheeler (later dubbed the "Cowdillac"). But on April 16, 1941, while on her way to Shubert Alley in the Theater District of New York City, her truck was hit from behind by another truck while stopped at a traffic light on Route 25 in Rahway, NJ. She suffered neck and spine injuries and was returned to her home at the Walker-Gordon Farm in Plainsboro, NJ. The Veterinarians determined she could not be saved so she was "put to sleep" and buried on the farm. A headstone was erected at the farm's entrance, praising her as "one of the great Elsie's of our time." Borden quietly christened a new Elsie and the promotional juggernaut moved forward, unaffected.
"You'll Do Lobelia" was the first Elsie, the one whose friendliness and big brown eyes had won the hearts of millions -- even if they couldn't tell her from the cow that had taken her place. Years passed into decades, the Walker-Gordon Dairy Farm went out of business, and in June 1999 "Elsie's" headstone was moved further west on Plainsboro Rd. A little gazebo was built next to it, ideal for wedding vows. A plaque was added to the site, praising Elsie as "a celebrated advertising trademark" and claiming that this was her burial site, even though it isn't exactly (Nor, for that matter, was the headstone's former location.).
The true grave is lost under a landscape crowded with hundreds of "townhomes" -- land that once was Elsie's dairy.
The Plainsboro Historical Society, whose museum next to town hall is open twice a month, displays Elsieabilia, along with artifacts from the Walker-Gordon legacy (though, sadly, just photos and drawings of the extinct Rotolactor).
Contemporary Elsies have graced the town's Founders' Day celebration. Yet Plainsboro is curiously detached from their dead celebrity cow, willing to distantly juxtapose a cute animal "grave site" with property in a burgeoning real estate market -- not quite ready for a full-blown Elsie Festival, sports team called the Elsies, or 40-ft. tall mooing statue.
Mention "Grovers Mills" -- a town only a few miles southeast of Plainsboro -- to anyone in the region, and they'll immediately respond, "Oh, you want to see the Martian Landing site?" That's a town with a lot less going for it, cheerfully throwing up saucer monuments and marking War of the Worlds birthdays with invasions by the press and alien intelligentsia.