The Pig Museum
The wacky DJs at KEZ 99.9 in Phoenix, Arizona, threw a dart at a map of the U.S. one morning in April 2013. It landed on a spot several miles west of St. Louis. They found a funny-sounding business in the area, Where Pigs Fly Farm, and called its owner, Cindy Brenneke. Cindy explained that her farm did not breed supernatural pigs: it was a rural petting zoo where people could mingle with farm animals. The odd name was Cindy's twist on the phrase, "When Pigs Fly," meaning "this will never happen."
"I moved off the family farm at 17 and swore I'd never go back," she told us with a laugh. Her return to country life may have shown that metaphorical pigs have wings, but Cindy's farm was home to many different kinds of animals. Not just pigs. "I was never really that into pigs," she said.
Nevertheless, a listener to the radio show in Phoenix called her sister-in-law in Wisconsin to tell her of this wacky pig farm in Missouri. The sister-in-law, Susi Honsa, was the widow of Ross Honsa, a policeman who'd been collecting anything and everything with pigs since the 1970s, hoping to break the record for world's largest pig collection. "His dying wish," said Cindy, "was to put the collection where the public could see it."
Susi called Cindy, and the tender-hearted not-really-a-pig-person agreed to take Ross's pigs -- all 14,500 of them.
Word spread quickly along the pig collector grapevine. Cindy was soon receiving calls from other pig collectors, asking if she could give their collections a public home as well: 3,000 pigs from Arizona, 4,000 from California, 7,000 from Louisiana, hundreds more from Indiana, Florida, Kansas, and even Italy. Running out of room, Cindy bought a bigger farm in 2015, but it didn't matter; her home was quickly overrun with pigs, now more than 30,000. "The pigs have definitely taken over," Cindy said. With the house already filled, Cindy told us she plans to expand the collection into a second farm building, and move herself into a loft over the barn -- which is already home to more than a dozen live pigs, including two half-ton behemoths named Babe and Grunt.
Cindy calls her unexpected Porkopolis "the only pig museum in America," although it really is more a collection than a museum. Shelves packed with pigs line nearly every wall of the house, floor to ceiling. Pigs fill the flat surfaces of every room, including the bathrooms and multiple bedrooms, which pig-loving visitors can rent for overnight stays. An alcove shrine to Ross Honsa features his vanity license plate, PIG COP.
Cindy groups the pigs into broad categories for display, less as a museum curator than just to keep track of what she does and doesn't have. Of the thousands of pigs and dozens of collections now under her roof, she's shocked by how few are duplicates. Who knew there were so many varieties of pig?
A visit to Where Pigs Fly Farm is like a trip to Dr. Doolittle's, with hundreds of friendly animals -- horses, goats, cats, dogs, donkeys, llamas, ducks, cows, and pigs of course -- wandering freely. The Pig Museum may be the only museum in the world where farm critters roam the hallways (We encountered a baby armadillo in the kitchen and an indoor pigeon named Lucky who kept following us and landing on our heads). Cindy told us that she still has thousands of pigs to unpack and inventory, but with all of her other obligations on the farm she worries she could go down the pig rabbit hole and never come out.
Still, Cindy bravely encourages every visitor to bring a pig to add to the collection, shouldering the burden passed to her by Ross Honsa, a man she never met. "There's a museum in Germany with 40,000 pigs, so we can never turn a pig away," she said. "We've got to beat the Germany museum."
"I think," she added, "that Ross is out there working his magic, because he wanted to achieve the largest pig collection in the world." With Cindy as his Piped Piper of porkers, he may just get there. "I'm still not totally into pigs," said Cindy, "but this is kinda cool."