LATE 1920S/EARLY 1930S:
The “hanging cow” outlined in blinking neon is hung.
1950: A new two-dimensional sign showing a cow standing on the words “Coburg Diary” replaces the hanging cow.
1959: The three-dimensional model, designed and installed by Roberts Sign Company, comes to Savannah Hwy.
1960s: The tradition of riding the cow begins.
1989: Hurricane Hugo hits and while the cow is safely stowed away, the neon sign and the she stands on are destroyed.
1991: The neon sign is repaired and the cow is brought out of hibernation.
1992: The cow is repaired and re-installed after a particularly rough ride by several Citadel cadets. A large ceremony is held.
2000: The cow is again repaired and reinstalled after being vandalized.
2001: In the face of overwhelming community support, a variance in the zoning ordinances for the City of Charleston allows the cow to remain at its current location.
A COWS TALE
COBURG COW HAS WEATHERED HURRICANES,
VANDALS, CADETS, AND BUREAUCRATS
By Warren Cobb
Ask any West Ashley resident for directions and they will almost certainly include the area’s most famous landmark, the Coburg Cow. Over the years the cow has become one of the most beloved Charleston figures. But don’t think that just because she’s popular, she’s always had it easy.
Nearly 80 years ago, the first Coburg cow, often referred to as “the hanging cow,” was erected near the spot where the current cow now spins. It was outlined in blinking neon and was one of the first of such technology in the area. It must have been an incredible sight to see for motorists traveling to Charleston from the South. At that time most of what is now West Ashley (then known as St. Andrew’s Parish) was considered way out in the country.
A manifestation of current sign first appeared in 1959. It was very much like the sign we have today, featuring the giant “C” and the rotating cow. According to Frank Hanckell, whose family began the Coburg Dairy, the sign was designed by the Roberts Sign Company, which still operates out of West Ashley and still repairs and maintains the sign.
Hanckell also said over the years, the community has been very vocal about their love of the cow. “Anything happens to that cow and the phone starts ringing,” says Hanckell. “It’s broken, they call. It’s not moving, they call.” 1989, during Hurricane Hugo, the cow was removed from the sign and safely corralled, but the mount was completely destroyed. The community was relieved when the cow was replaced in 1991, safe and back to keeping watch over West Ashley.
Mother Nature has not been the only trail the Coburg cow has faced. Let’s not forget the clandestine cowboys and cowgirls who’ve taken the challenge of attempting to ride the cow in the middle of the night, or sometimes in broad daylight. In the 1960s riding the cow became a kind of rite passage for Charleston youths.
According to Hanckell, only two people have been arrested for riding the cow: one was a Charleston Policeman who was newly engaged and the other was Mr. Hanckell’s daughter. Both were eventually let off the hook. It is important to note that attempting to ride the cow is indeed highly illegal.
In early 1992, the cow suffered one of its most damaging rides ever. Several Citadel cadets were making their yearly visit to the Savannah Highway rodeo, a tradition following the Ring Ceremony, when tragedy struck. The cow was badly damaged and several cadets were banged up pretty good, too. The cow had to be totally rehabilitated.
It was a sad day for the citizens of West Ashley. But the Coburg Dairy wasn’t about to send the community’s most recognizable bovine out to pasture. The citizens rallied and the Citadel Corps of Cadets took up a collection. Before long the cow was back in her rightful place.
A ceremony was held and hundreds of people crowded into the parking lot around the cow. The Citadel Bagpipers announced the cow’s arrival while other cadets gave her a 21-gun salute. The ol’ cow has also lost a few tails here and there at the hands of rustlers. “Over the years, we have glued them on, welded them on, and even put a steel rod through the body into the tail,” says Hanckell. “Unfortunately, the company who once sold us new tails went out of business and the cost to replace them has become prohibitive.”
With the exception of a few missing tails, the cow more or less lived the easy life for the rest of the 1990s. But in January of 2001, she found her way onto the agenda for the City of Charleston’s Board of Zoning Appeals. Because the Coburg Dairy had moved to North Charleston, closing its West Ashley facility, a city ordinance that prohibits off-premises signage threatened to send the cow to the slaughterhouse.
Once again the citizens of Charleston rallied ‘round the cow. Protests were organized and petitions were signed. When the item came up at the Zoning Board meeting, a multitude of pro-cow activists came out to support her. And since not one person spoke in opposition to the cow, she was given a zoning variance and allowed to stay.
Through all of her ups and down, its been the community that has always been the biggest fan of the Coburg Cow. That makes Frank Hanckell feel good. “I’m very proud that the community has enjoyed it as much as we have,” says Hanckell. “It’s been a fun thing for us to do. And it’s been fun for the community.”
What’s next foe the Coburg Cow? She will be 50-years-old in 2009 and will possible be eligible to be listed as a historic object in the National Register of Historic Places. But even if the cow doesn’t , make the list, its not likely the citizens of West Ashley will roam very far from home at 901 Savannah Hwy.