Iconic WWII era photo of a giant steer recreated from the original model |
KOKOMO, Ind. – In the early 1940s, 22-year-old Phyllis Talbert posed for the first time in front of Old Ben, a giant ox preserved by a taxidermist.
The photo was printed over 2,000 times and circulated among American military personnel during World War II. Recently Talbert, now 100, returned to Kokomo, Indiana to recreate the photo.
With her wheelchair placed in front of the wheel mounted and the cameras gathered around her once more, Talbert shouted, “Keep me in my place.
She wasn’t shy in front of the public and seemed to enjoy shaking hands with people who came to see her recreate the pose.
According to a Kokomo Tribune article published on October 30, 1950, Old Ben was born in the summer of 1902 and raised by Mike and John Murphy on a local farm. His sire was a registered Hereford bull named Dale, who was owned by the Clem Graves farm in Bunker Hill, and his dam was a shorthorn owned by the Murphys.
At five days old, old Ben had to get on his knees to breastfeed. At 18 months, he already weighed 1,800 pounds.
After the steer’s debut on the farm, Old Ben was displayed at county fairs and festivals throughout Indiana. He was described as nice and had an affinity for the game.
Old Ben had been frolicking with John Murphy on a cold February day in 1910 when he slipped on the ice, fell and broke his leg. Marion’s vet was called to the farm, where Old Ben was shot with a .22 caliber rifle.
At the time of his death, he was 6 feet 4 inches tall in the front; and 16 feet, 2 inches long from the tip of its tail to the tip of its snout. Two counts were given for his weight – either 4,585 or 4,720 pounds. The town of Kokomo still claims that Old Ben was the biggest steer ever.
The meat from Old Ben’s carcass would have filled a 14-by-7-foot hay rack. According to legend, a grocer in Peru, Indiana bought the meat hoping to cash in on the fame of the beef. But when community members threatened to boycott the business, the beef was shipped to Indianapolis, where it was sold as frankfurters.
A taxidermist from Rochester, New York installed Old Ben’s skin, and the Murphys continued to display their beloved beef until the farm was sold in 1919 and the town of Kokomo acquires the stuffed ox.
In a February 19, 1955 column, Maurice C. Tull of the Kokomo Tribune recalled photographing the iconic photo of Old Ben.
As he recounts, two young men from Kokomo had been stationed on a small island in the Pacific during World War II. They were the only Hoosiers on the island and the majority of their comrades were Texans.
Sharing stories about big cattle, the Hoosiers story of the world’s biggest steer in Kokomo was incredible for Texans.
Hoping to uphold Old Ben’s honor, the young men wrote to the Kokomo Tribune and asked if the community would be kind enough to provide proof that their steer story was not a bull load.
Specifically, they requested signed affidavits from the sheriff, the county court judge and the editor of the Kokomo Tribune. They also wanted a photo.
Tull asked Talbert to pose in front of Old Ben to give the steer size some perspective.
It wasn’t long before more copies of the photo were requested. Requests were accepted and further photos were sent free of charge.
“Back came letters, which in some form contained that classic line, ‘Never mind the numbers on the bull, who’s the girl?'” Tull wrote.
When the Pacific Islands garrison was transferred, the picture left with them. Soon, Tull recalled, it seemed the entire Navy had seen the photo.
Then the newspaper learned that there was a group of young kokomo men fighting in Africa. More photos have been requested and received.
“To Palermo (Italy) we followed them, then we picked up the army in the south of France,” Tull wrote, adding that General George Patton’s troops “apparently had a shortage of pictures of the big steer and of Phillis”.
By the end of the war, around 2,000 prints had been sent.
In a September 6, 2009 article in the Tribune, Talbert explained that she responded to every letter she received.