New Salem, North Dakota
World’s Largest Holstein Cow (Salem Sue)
Imagine a top-secret experiment in New Salem, North Dakota where a Holstein cow is saturated with gamma radiation to produce more milk. Suddenly something goes horribly awry, causing the beast to grow to a dizzying 38 feet tall and 50 feet long from nose to rump. The scientists flee in horror, leaving her on a lonely hillside high above Interstate 94 to await their return. Sounds like fiction? It is. But nevertheless, Salem Sue is a monstrous Holstein cow (not Brahma, nor Angus, nor Longhorn) that has overlooked I-94 half an hour west of Bismarck since 1974. As you approach New Salem from the east, you can make out her silhouette for 5 miles, finding yourself saying, “That can’t be it! No way!” Directions to Salem Sue are pointless – simply aim your car towards the giant cow.
Sue is at the top (almost) of a hill accessed by a well-kept dirt road that winds its way around. A small kiosk at the entrance has flyers giving Sue’s history, and a tube with a slot that asks for a voluntary donation of $1 per carload, delightfully deposited into a milk can below. Seriously, we’re talking about a dollar for as many people as you can fit in your vehicle (thrifty folks are encouraged to rent a clown car). Pay the dollar – it goes to making sure Sue always has a fresh coat of paint and can be enjoyed by future generations of milk drinkers.
At the top of the road is a small dirt parking lot where a small flight of wooden stairs take you up to where Sue is tethered. Although it seems strange that a 12,000 pound cow needs to be tethered down (who is going to steal THAT?), consider that she stands atop a hill with no surrounding trees, and because she is made of fiberglass she is hollow. A junior tornado would undoubtedly be enough to at least knock her over. When you step out of your vehicle, you detect the unmistakable odor of cow pies, and you wonder just how realistic Sue is. The source of the smell is the dairy farms situated below the hillside where she stands; she is specifically a Holstein to represent the breed that has been used in dairy farming in New Salem since the early 1900s. Standing at her hoof you begin to realize just how truly gargantuan she is. Reaching up for a teat to simulate milking (like I’m the only one who has ever done that) required me to stand on my toes, and I could barely reach. The view from her perch is amazing – farmland and gentle rolling hills stretch out for miles in all directions. As night approaches, floodlights ensure Sue is still visible from the highway, standing vigilant and patient on her lonely hillside.
North Dakota seems to be the epicenter of superlatives (I’ll introduce you to other giants in future articles), but oddly their state capital in Bismarck looks like a small corporate office tower. Still, it’s a beautiful drive across great expanses, and Salem Sue is a short welcome diversion and a trippy place to stretch your feet before heading back out on the highway for that tall, cold glass of milk.
N 8th Ave
New Salem, ND 58563
GPS coordinates: 46°51’9.73″N 101°25’34.84″W