Old Ben

Old BenHistory of Highland Park Booklet

Old Ben may not be the best known character in Kokomo's history, but he is easily  in the Top Ten.  Everyone who has lived here for any length of time knows about him.  During World War II, his fame spread to all parts of the world by word and picture.  He set a record for his size, which still stands to this day.  The preserved figure of the gigantic steer stands in the Highland Park pavilion. 
 
Old Ben's story began in 1902 on the farm of Mike and John Murphy between Bunker Hill and Miami near what is known as Haggerty's crossing.  He was the off-spring of a pure bred registered Hereford bull and an ordinary shorthorn cow.  Ben was a prodigy from the very beginning as he weighed 125 pounds at birth.  It was said he had to rest on his knees to nurse when he was less than a week old.  He gained approximately 100 pounds a month.  He weighed one ton at 20 months and two tons at the age of 4 in 1906.  By that time, he had become quite a celebrity, and his owners exhibited him at many fairs and festivals.  The Nickel Plate Railroad even ran a spur line to the Murphy farm just to help Ben in his travels.   
 
He was never fed a special diet, but was pastured with the other cattle on the Miami county farm where many visitors would go to watch him on his home ground.  Numerous sideshow and circus owners tried to buy him, but the Murphy's turned them all down.  The Murphy's preferred to show him themselves in a private tent at fairs all over Indiana and at the State Fair.  Unfortunately, in February of 1910, Ben slipped on some ice and had a hard fall that broke his leg.  With understandable reluctance, the Murphy's called in a vet from Marion and had him shot.  With today's improved veterinary science, it is possible that Old Ben might have been saved.  Who knows?  There were two different figures on the animal's weight at the time of his passing.  One figure was 4,585 and the other was 4,720 pounds.  He was 6 1/2 feet tall at the shoulder, 14 feet around and 16 1/4 feet from his nose to the tip of his tail. 
 
What happened after a bullet put an end to Old Ben's career?  His hide was sent to a taxidermist in New York where it was expertly stuffed and mounted for posterity.  The Murphy brothers continued to display their famous steer on their farm until they sold it in 1919.  A Peru, Indiana grocer bargained for the beef of the carcass and thought he could capitalize on Ben's fame.  However, many citizens of Peru threatened to boycott his store if he went through with such a scheme, so the grocer's plan was cancelled.  The beef was then quickly shipped by rail to Indianapolis for conversion into frankfurters.  Some say the stuffed steer was donated to the City of Firsts in 1919, and other accounts state that it was bought for a  price of $300.  At any event, Old Ben has been an object of wonder ever since.  Even Ripley featured him in his "Believe It or Not" show back in 1968.  During WWII, picture postcards of a girl named Phyllis Hartzell (now Mrs. Max Talbert of Marion, Indiana) with arms out-stretched and standing in front of the famous steer were printed from a photo by Maurice Tull in 1943 and mailed to service men around the globe.  He is housed in the Visitor's Center in Highland Park.