Kansas town takes pride in its hairball

April 04, 1994|By Mike Berry | Mike Berry,Knight-Ridder News Service

Believe it or not, the world's largest known hairball isn't on display in one of the offbeat Ripley's Believe It or Not! museums scattered across the United States.

No, the biggest organically generated fur ball in the world probably resides in Garden City, Kan.

Squatting like a gray, oversized, felt-covered bowling ball, the Finney County Historical Society Museum's contender rather easily overshadows the winner of Ripley's recent search for the world champion hairball.

Removed from the stomach of a cow slaughtered at the IBP beef-processing plant in Holcomb, the Finney museum's hairball measures 37 inches around.

"Our largest hairball was 33 inches in circumference," says Lisa Pacella, a Ripley's staffer who supervised a coast-to-coast contest to find a hairball big enough to choke a saber-toothed tiger.

She sent out more than 3,000 fliers to virtually every meat-processing plant in America and received more than 300 hairballs -- some still moist and aromatic -- in return. Her office has not been the same since, she says.

The winner of the contest, a man from Colorado, received $1,000.

Mary Warren, director of the Finney County Historical Society Museum, says she is aware of Ripley's contest and the bounty being offered for the world's largest hairball.

"But we told them we wouldn't let go of it," she says. "After a while we kind of grew attached to it. It's one of our more unusual conversation pieces."

Ms. Warren says the oversize fuzz ball will fit in well with an exhibit on the local beef industry when the newly remodeled museum opens again in early June.

Most people think hairballs only occur in cats, but Ms. Warren says they aren't uncommon in cattle -- although they usually don't get larger than baseballs. Cattle lick themselves, and sometimes loose hair accumulates in the rumen, one of a cow's two stomachs, gradually growing into a ball.

Ms. Pacella says cattle can't cough up a hairball like cats can, so the balls just continue to grow.

When IBP workers discovered their humongous hairball last summer, it weighed 55 pounds, Ms. Warren says. "When they brought it down, we couldn't believe it was all hair, so we took it and had it X-rayed, and that's all it is," she says.

Now dry and free of odor, the giant ball of hair is almost perfectly round and larger than a basketball. The typical reaction of museum visitors, Ms. Warren says, is: "Oh my God . . . that poor cow!"

The smaller hairballs generated by Ripley's offbeat contest may be parceled out to some of the 20 Ripley's museums, says Ms. Pacella, who now proudly refers to herself as "the hairball queen."

Ms. Warren, meanwhile, doesn't plan to label the Historical Society's hairball as the biggest one in the world.

The folks at the Monfort beef-processing plant in Garden City have come up with a somewhat oblong-shaped hairball that measures 43 3/4 inches around its widest part.

But when a museum staffer suggested, "We should go after that one," Ms. Warren was quick to say, "No, one big hairball is enough."

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