Why buy the cow if you can get the history for free?
Coney Island preservationists want to get their hands on a life-size, milk and beer-dispensing cow statue that was a 19th-century Surf Avenue attraction, but they can’t afford the $78,000 price tag set by a Pennsylvania-based memorabilia dealer.
“The cow is like the holy grail of Coney Island novelty, but we just don’t have the money to purchase it,” said Coney Island USA founder Dick Zigun, who added that he exhausted his nonprofit organization’s budget by restoring the recently landmarked former Childs Restaurant on Surf Avenue.
Dubbed the “Inexhaustible Cow,” the udders of the hollowed-out wooden beast spewed lager — and five-cent-per-glass milk for the kids — at a Surf Avenue booth, as documented in various reports and photos. The udder-ly kooky vending machine debuted about 1880, when Coney Island was a resort town filled with bathhouses, hotels and clam chowder joints — before the first amusement park sprouted up in 1895.
“It’s fascinating that this zany piece is still around,” said Ken Hochman, marketing director for the landmark Deno’s Wonder Wheel, which is also the new home of the Coney Island History Project. “We’d love to have it, but can’t afford it at that price.”
No one is quite sure why and how the cow left Coney, but antique aficionado Greg Kramer acquired the piece two years ago, as first reported on the website, Amusing the Zillion. Kramer has since reduced the cow’s asking price by more than $65,000, but selling it for any less would be a major loss, according to his partner Nancy Pennypacker.
So far, the dealer has only received a couple of offers, though Pennypacker couldn’t confirm if any bids came from Coney.
But at least one Coney operator may have enough cheese in the bank to bid on a milk-dispensing cow: Central Amusement, the Italian-based company with a 10-year-lease from the city to revitalize the amusement district. Most of Central Amusement’s projects are geared for the “new” Coney Island, as it opened Luna Park last spring, and is constructing Scream Zone now. But the amusement operator showed a soft spot for history by pledging to renovate the 83-year-old Cyclone roller coaster. Central Amusement officials did not return a request for comment.
Coney Island enthusiasts have long championed vernacular architecture, as the area was also home to an elephant-shaped hotel and a giant orange-shaped juice stand. And in February, historians called for the hot-dog shaped Coney Island Boardwalk diner to move from its current Colorado home to the place that it truly belongs.
“Coney Island is the place for wacky things that capture the imagination,” Zigun said.