Even the most casual student of Huntsville history is familiar with the name Lily Flag, a world-famous Jersey cow who produced a record 1,047 pounds of butter in 1892. She was owned by Gen. Samuel Moore, who celebrated her with one of the grandest galas Huntsville has seen.
While Gen. Moore seemed to revel in publicity, Lily Flag – later spellings and many of her namesakes erroneously add an extra G to the last name -- was a bit more private. However, the #IHeartHsv blog has uncovered this long-lost interview done with her in 1896 in Lowell, Mass.
Q: First of all, you look great. How are you feeling these days?
Lily: I’m well. I know it sounds like I’m bragging, but there was another writer here not long ago. He said, “she captivates the eye by her wonderful beauty of form.” And that “there is the look of the almost perfect cow about her.” He also wrote some flattering things about my udder, but that’s embarrassing and uncomfortable to talk about in mixed company.
Q: The man who owns this farm, Charles Hood, made most of his money from selling sundries like sarsaparilla and medicines. It’s a lovely place, but it’s not Huntsville. How did you get here?
Lily: I wasn’t real happy about it at first, to tell you the truth. That whole thing about the grass is always greener on the other side? I’m not so sure of it.
There I was, living in Huntsville, being treated like a queen. Then they put me on a train to Chicago and I went to the World’s Fair in 1893. Now, that didn’t turn out like I hoped it would – I’ll get to that part in a minute – and when it was over Mr. Hood bought me for about $10,000. He also bought Merry Maiden there. She’s such a diva, all because Mr. Hood put her picture on his sarsaparilla labels. She thinks she’s so hot. I’ve got her beat, hoof and tail.
Q: Let’s go back to the beginning. How did you wind up in Huntsville?
Lily: I was born in Frankfort, Ky., in 1884. My parents were Georgian and Little Nan. I was thoroughbred, but we were a strictly upper-middle class family. I was sold when I was just a calf to these gentlemen from Huntsville who had Monte Sano Dairy. They were W.E. Matthews, Milton Humes and this dashing General Samuel Moore.
Cows aren’t exactly geniuses when it comes to geography, but I knew we weren’t on any Monte Sano. We were out there near Maysville Road. Word around the barn was the farmhouse was bought by former Governor of Alabama Reuben Chapman in 1873 after Yankee soldiers burned his old house down 12 years earlier. Oops, guess I can’t say “Yankee” too loud in Massachusetts, can I?
Q: Who was it that noticed you were special?
Lily: General Moore saw when I was young that I had a knack for being able to produce a lot of cream that made great butter. Mr. Meadows was my milker. He slept upstairs from my stable, and he’d milk me every day at 4 o’clock in the morning and 3 in the afternoon.
By the time I was eight years old, I was in my heyday. I also had several kids by then. Nice, pretty kids. Took after me instead of their father, thank goodness. I’ve had a few more since I came to Massachusetts, and now I’m a grandmother, too.
Q: Samuel Moore threw that famous party for you on July 21, 1892 at his house on Adams Street. The Huntsville Weekly Democrat said his house was the “lodestone for the elite of Huntsville’s society.” What was that party like?
Lily: Oh, honey, it wasn’t just Huntsville society. There were people invited from all over the country, as far away as New York City.
Gen. Moore got some of the first electric lights anybody in the South ever saw and decorated his house. He hired an Italian band from Nashville. He had a 50-foot dance floor built.
I stood in the yard, wearing a garland of roses around my neck, looking pretty elegant if I say so myself. It was fun being the center of attention. People would come by and stare and some would even speak to me. But I’m shy at parties, so I didn’t talk back.
The party started at 9 o’clock at night and didn’t end until 3 in the morning. At midnight, they served a huge buffet. Ham and mutton, salads and desserts, all served on real fancy china. I thought it was in good taste by Gen. Moore they didn’t serve roast beef.
Photo Credit: Huntsville Historic Preservation Commission
Q: A lot of people still think that Gen. Moore’s party was after you had gone to the World’s Fair. What happened in Chicago?
Lily: I really wasn’t all that impressed with Chicago and the fair. It was kind of boring. One of the papers wrote that I “lay on a pile of straw and chewed her cud just as calmly as if she were not the champion jersey cow on the earth.” Well, what else am I supposed to do? Go ride the carousel?
Gen. Moore and Mr. Meadows made a mistake. They wanted me to come up with another world record bit of butter, and they decided not to milk me for 24 hours. Well, that backfired. It made me sick. My udder didn’t work right, and I only did 29 pounds, 11 ounces in seven days, and I finished second.
But that must have been good enough to impress Mr. Hood, because here I am, chewing my cud with you in Massachusetts.
I do miss Huntsville. A lot. Even now, before I hit the hay, I can close my eyes and still see Gen. Moore’s house, all lit up like something magical, and all the people treating me like the queen I am, and I can still smell the roses hanging around my neck.