During the summer of 1999, some 300 flamboyant fiberglass cows descended upon Chicago, bedecked in everything from gum drops to gold leaf to paint. “Cows on Parade” generated boundless enthusiasm, extraordinary tourism, millions of dollars, innumerable imitation exhibitions, and endless bovine puns. Now, twenty years after being put out to pasture, some of the cows are returning to the public eye to celebrate the anniversary of the original initiative.
“It had such an impact on the city, so I think people will enjoy seeing some of the cows again,” says Peter Hanig, the shoe store owner and businessman who originally brought Cows on Parade to Chicago. This time around, the Magnificent Mile Association is putting all the cows in the same place, in Jane Byrne Park at Michigan and Chicago Avenues, by the historic Water Tower. (A few of the cows have remained on public display over the years.)
“There will be eighteen cows in Jane Byrne Park,” says Hanig. “Well, seventeen and a half.” The “half” is a cow owned by Hanig: the sculpture at the Board of Trade in 1999 used only the front part of the cow, so Hanig acquired the back half and had it decorated. “We’re calling it ‘The End of the Parade,’ “ he says.
The cow that was sponsored by Hanig’s Footwear twenty years ago and then bought by Peter Hanig—140 of the sculptures were auctioned off after Cows on Parade, bringing in more than $3.4 million for charity—will be on display, as will one that his brother owns. “My cow was in the back yard and got hit in a wind storm, so it’s a bit battered, but it still looks great,” Peter Hanig says.
Hanig decided to bring Cows on Parade to Chicago after seeing a similar exhibition while on vacation in Zurich, Switzerland in 1998. An admirer of Jane Jacobs and her idea of the street as a community, he appreciated the sculptures’ ability to bring people together in a public place. “I kept seeing people gathering and laughing around them in Zurich, and I thought the cow would fit naturally in Chicago, given the stockyards, the legend of O’Leary’s cow and the Chicago fire, and our agrarian state,” he explains. “A cow is also approachable, non-threatening, understandable, and relatable.”
The sculptures that have been rounded up to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Cows on Parade will be on display for the month of July. While they probably won’t generate quite as much pande-moo-nium as the original iteration (it wouldn’t be the anniversary without some bad puns!), they are still a delight to see. “I just want them to lighten people’s moods when they spot them,” says Hanig.
See some of the cows in their new, month-long home here: