When I worked the Crazy Ball at the Michigan State Fair, instead of taking daily draws to eat, I lived on bottomless cups of chocolate milk. It cost only a quarter and if you saved your cup, the workers in the dairy barn would gladly pour unlimited refills from the stainless steel dispenser. I got hoarse yelling “Hey it’s Crazy Ball Fun Time, You Pick the Colors, the Crazy Ball Picks the Winners” and acquired a taste for Michigan’s chocolate milk. When I got back to New York, I looked in vain for a brand that was as delicious.
Sadly, Michigan’s fair, the oldest state fair in the nation, ended in 2009 due to state budget cuts and its bottomless cup of milk is no more. The 25-cent tradition is now as much a part of history as Coney Island’s Inexhaustible Cow, a 19th century attraction which dispensed milk in its booth in Culver Plaza. I first glimpsed Coney’s cow in a photo in Charles Denson’s book Coney Island Lost and Found: “Pure ice cold milk, 5 cents.” Another photo from the Denson archive shows another milk dispensing cow at Feltman’s Restaurant. The home of the hot dog was also the home of an Inexhaustible Cow!
One of the Coney Island cows has apparently survived and is being offered for sale. Greg Kramer, a Pennsylvania dealer of Americana, is selling the cow (milk not included) for $78,000. It is marked down from its original asking price of $145,000. The cow was brought to our attention when Nashville House & Home Magazine tweeted from last month’s Music Valley Antiques Show “saw a vintage lifesize cow milk dispenser once used at Coney Island. It’s a steal. Very shabby, rustic looking wood. …”
Kramer told ATZ that he ID’d the cow in an 1881 drawing which appears in Frederick Fried’s book Artists in Wood. Fried attributes the cow to Samuel Robb, a wood carver known for his cigar store Indians and circus carvings. His shop was located at 195 Canal Street. Fried writes, “The cow was a larger than life size wooden cow with a hollow interior into which was placed cans of milk on ice. Spigots fitted into the wooden udder and poured milk for a nickel a glass.” Kramer’s cow still has its spigots as well as “a third coat of paint, restoration to feet and horns, one original eye and normal expected weathering.”
In 1893, an article in the New York Times lamented the loss of Bauer’s Hotel after a fire: “And you also conjure up the days and nights when you used to drink milk at the booth where the big Aldernay cow stood as ‘patiently’ while the pretty milkmaids filled your glass to the brim. There is an absence, too, of the booth where you could get a glass of champagne, of uncertain vintage, but reputed to be from France, at 10 cents a glass.” Other writers slyly suggest that Coney Island’s Inexhaustible Cow would dispense milk to children and lager to adults.
Related posts on ATZ…
December 19, 2010: Rare & Vintage: Original Coney Island Motordrome Bike
September 9, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Faber’s Fascination Goes Dark After 50 Years
February 25, 2010: Happy Belated Birthday to Coney Island’s William F Mangels