'If a hairball brings people to God, let's keep the hairball'
ST. BENEDICT, Ore. - It's a hairball ... that came from the inside of a pig ... and it is HUGE.
"It must have been a big pig," said Br. Cyril Drnjevic, a Benedictine monk at the Mount Angel Abbey in St. Benedict, Ore. The abbey has had this curious hairball in its possession since the 1940s.
As the story goes, the hairball (which is the size of a football) is the world's largest. At least that's the claim.
"Somebody who worked at a slaughterhouse in Portland said that was the biggest hairball they had ever seen in a pig, and he said it must be the world's largest. So that's what we wrote down," said Drnjevic.
A museum tucked away in the bottom of the abbey's church houses the oddity, among other strange objects (like a stuffed baby calf with two extra legs growing out of its back or the one with four legs growing out of its stomach).
"I had heard stories about this place," said museum visitor Jeff Delegato. "My sons had come down here with my mother and mother-in-law and toured this museum. They told me all about it and I thought it sounded unusual."
Unusual indeed. The Mount Angel Abbey has been around since the late 1800s and over the decades, a collection of random items has wound up in its museum.
"Some of them seem to be from dead monks," said museum curator Br. Andre Love. "You know, you go into their cell after they've been there for 60 years and you're like 'what's he doing with all of this? We took a vow of poverty.'"
There are old trinkets, fossils, Catholic vestments, statues, sports memorabilia and even a rather large exhibit of taxidermied wildlife (courtesy of Larry Epping, a prominent local developer who is an alumnus of the abbey).
"It's a smattering of stuff that people find very interesting," said Father Nathan Zodrow, who had brought a group there for a tour when we stopped by.
But the pig hairball is what really brings folks in. It's not advertised, although you will find mentions of it online and in some books. The hairball is even listed as one of the 51 Weirdest Tourist Traps in America by truTV and made it onto RoadsideAttractions.com.
Mostly, though, people hear about the hairball by word of mouth. It's become a novelty for the abbey and one they are proud to have.
"Somebody told me one time that they thought we should get rid of it," Drnjevic said. "I said by no means. What brings you here is not necessarily what keeps you here. If people come to see the hairball, they'll see that there's a whole lot more here than the hairball."
"If a hairball brings people to God, let's keep the hairball."
Love agrees. "It brings plenty of people to the hilltop who would never visit a Catholic monastery," he said.
Visitors are always welcome at the Mount Angel Abbey, which sits on top of a hill above Mount Angel and is home to the popular Abbey Bach Festival in the summertime. And of course it draws folks who visit Mount Angel for Oktoberfest in the fall.
This time of year, when it's mainly the monks there, you'll find a sense of serenity.
"People are usually pretty impressed with just the environment and how everything is so calm," said Zodrow.
Visitors can stop at the gift/book store for a cup of coffee and then take a self-guided walking tour of the grounds, which of course includes a stop at the museum to see the hairball.
Love said he hopes people will stop by not only to see the hairball but just for the experience of setting foot in a museum, which he feels sometimes gets lost in our digital culture.
"Because we have Google and Wikipedia and all of that, no one needs to go to a museum - especially the smaller ones like ours," he said. "And there are so many of them out there that just go unnoticed. And they are just a wonderful little nugget of Americana."