Moo-seum filled with more than 14,000 items.
Former WCCO Radio personality Roger Erickson often jokingly referred to the “International Airport” located in the rural hamlet of Bernadotte that has all of about a half dozen houses and one church situated next to Nicollet County Road 10 a few miles east of the town of Lafayette. Although the fictitious airport drew some attention and laughs for the little village, the real attraction is in the unusually large collection of more than 14,000 items involving cows that are displayed throughout the house that holds Ruth Klossner’s Cow Moo-seum. For nearly 33 years Klossner has been gradually filling every shelf, cabinet, couch, desktop, staircase ledges, kitchen counters, wall space, a spare bedroom, closets, the bathroom, an entire basement – even the furnace room – and nook and cranny with anything that is cow related. Tins, coffee mugs, clocks, wall hangings, nightlights, toothpick holders, artist prints, toy cows, plates, barnyard miniatures, card games, puzzles, kitchen items, jewlery of all sorts, ceramics, clothes, statues, trophies, photos, watches, bookends, stuffed animals, lamps, the list is nearly endless. Simply put, if it doesn’t involve cows it won’t be found among the 14,121 pieces and counting that practically consumes Klossner’s house. Ruth’s affection for cows started at a young age in the mid-1960s growing up on her parents 30 cow Holstein dairy farm just a few miles north of New Ulm. She was the Nicollet County Holstein Girl in 1964 and was active in 4-H showing a grand champion cow named “Princess Delight” at the Minnesota State Fair in 1966. The cow statue from 1964 has the No. 1 label attached to it in the collection’s inventory. Ruth says her collection probably started at that time with her 4-H awards and picked up momentum in the mid-1970s when she bought an old 1906 dated white ceramic piece of a cow and its calf at a garage sale in Winthrop and soon she was hooked. She found herself going to flea markets and auctions or estate sales to find anything with cows to add to her growing herd of items. A couple of her friends came up with the idea for naming her collection as the “Moo-seum” and delivered a hand-painted wooden roadside sign that stands in the front yard. When visitors walk into her house it’s a sensory overload experience of not knowing where or what to look at first. “I’ve had this stuff for so long, I don’t see it, it’s just there…I just have cows hanging on my walls, a few more than normal,” she said. Her two poodle dogs don’t seem to mind sharing living space among the cows in Ruth’s home. “Leroy and Precious, they just kind of blend in and don’t bother things that sit on the floor but sometimes I find a few pieces moved around, especially if they need some more room for themselves up on the couch with the stuffed animals,” she said. Klossner says that maybe one-fourth to one-third of the things in her moo-seum are gifts that she’s received. “Some people say I’m the easiest person to buy for at Christmas or my birthday because they know what I collect, but then again for others it can be hard because they don’t know what I already have.” Cow items often mysteriously appear in her mailbox or are placed on the front steps by anonymous contributors. “The other day I let the dogs outside and there was a plastic bag on my step with some cow items in it,” she noted. She attends Bernadotte Lutheran Church located across the road and about 10 years ago someone left a wooden cutout of a cow at the church for her. “It had a message on it that read: ‘Can I go home with you, I want to live at the moo-seum’…I still don’t know who left it for me,” she said. One of her most recent acquisitions was a playground kickball she found at a hardware store with a picture of a cow on it. At her retirement party in January after spending over 27 years as editor of the local Nicollet-Lafayette Ledger newspaper, Klossner received another 10 cow items as gifts for her collection. “A lot of people know about the moo-seum and keep a look out for items when they’re traveling around the country or abroad. I have pieces from Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, England, Holland, Poland, South Africa among others,” she stated. Her entire collection is carefully chronicled in a 395 page notebook binder and on a computer program so she knows exactly what she has in the moo-seum, how much she paid for it, where and when it was purchased or if it was donated with the name of the individual who gave it to her. “Each piece gets a numbered sticker attached to it when they come into the museum and then it’s entered into my computer and the insurance company gets a copy of it,” Ruth explains. She doesn’t know exactly the value of her collection but has several pieces that are considered collectors items. “I always like to say that the collection is probably worth more than my house,” she laughed. Her quest is to find the tru-type cow models for the Brown Swiss and Guernsey breeds. She has the true-type models for the other breeds which can be attributed to her education gained at the University of Minnesota. She majored in dairy science but was told the only occupations available to women at that time were in laboratories or journalism. “So I finished with a Home Economics degree and later added a Masters Degree in Agriculture so I could be a county extension agent. I got hired by Sibley County and worked with 4-H programs for 13 years.” After her position was eliminated she began her journalism career where she provided award-winning coverage of agriculture topics, events, activities and photography for her readers. For 30 years Klossner also has been the official photographer at the Minnesota State Fair taking photos of 4-H participants and their reserve or grand champion ribbon animals, plus judging teams. “I’ve probably taken 20,000 photos of different kids and animals. Digital cameras and websites are sure easier now for getting the photos and information out to publications,” she explained. “It used to be where I took my own darkroom to the fair and set it up in the cattle barn to make the prints and mail them out to the extension agents,” she recalled. Every December Klossner hosts an open house at the moo-seum for about 150 guests with local students or 4-Hers volunteering to be her tour guides. “My guides range from kindergarten age to high school kids. The open house usually is held the first Sunday in December, otherwise tours are available by appointment or to anyone who happens to stop by for a look. “Some of the kids know better than I do what’s in my house and at the end of the day we take a group photo and if I have some duplicate items they go into a box. We clean it out before they leave and the kids all take something…the city kids especially are the most thrilled to take a cow item home,” she explained. Ruth’s moo-seum has gained considerable publicity in a wide assortment of publications and on metro television station shows. She has a thick scrapbook filled with the articles that have been written over the years. She’s even had her moo-seum written about in a Danish magazine by a writer who was at the state fair doing articles about Minnesota agriculture in 2006. “The funniest part of that was after the story came out, a couple of foreign exchange students were here and one of the girls was from Denmark and she told me her dad got that paper,” Ruth stated. Ruth says that with so many cow items filling her house the theory is that there should be less room for dust to gather. “Fortunately this isn’t a dusty house but when I was working I had some cleaners help me out a couple times a year, now I suppose I’ll have more time to do that myself.” Although she hasn’t checked with the Guiness Book of World Records, Klossner believes she likely has the largest collection of cow pieces in the country – perhaps the world. “But it takes a lot of documentation and I haven’t gotten around to contacting them yet,” she said. Ruth says there are many stories connected with all the pieces in her moo-seum and she can recall most of them. “Half of the fun of collecting is the hunt and the other half is sharing it with others,” she said. Recently a friend in the metro area was giving away her cow collection and gave Ruth 125 new pieces. And then there was a 90-year-old man from California who worked in the dairy industry for many years who offered his collection of about 300 pieces that Ruth obtained just for the cost of shipping. Another time she received an old cow picture that someone discovered in an old log cabin up north. “Otherwise, I pick up pieces from nearly everywhere I go,” she said. “Sometimes for garage sales I’ll call ahead before they start selling to see what they have and I really appreciate it when I can get there before others. I pretty much get zoned in when I’m looking for cow items that I usually don’t see much else,” she added. Ruth says it’s also fun to hear that some people who’ve been to the moo-seum remember her and look to find cow things in places they’ve never looked before too. Several hundred cow t-shirts and sweatshirts in her collection adorn the walls of her spare bedroom or are hanging in closets. A bedspread with cows was brought back from one of Klossner’s trips to Switzerland. “One of the sweatshirts has some cow art on it and “O.C.D. Obsessive Cow Disorder” imprinted on it and when you look around, we always get a laugh about that,” said Ruth. “My house looks normal from the outside but when you step inside it’s not normal by any means, it’s one of a kind.” Also among the interesting items is a beaded cow made by a Zulu tribe that a traveler brought back to her from South Africa. And Ruth is fond of the photos and paintings she has in the collection, particularly the realistic works of artist Bonnie Mohr from Glencoe who originally is from the New Ulm area. Included is a complete set of her collector plates based on Mohr’s paintings. Since she started using a guestbook 12 years ago more than 4,300 signatures of people have been recorded by those who’ve been to her moo-seum from 29 states, 27 countries and three provinces in Canada. “I’ve had groups from the Red Hat Ladies, a motorcycle mystery tour, a Swedish choir that was dressed up in cow clothes, home extension groups, 4-H, school tours, Lion’s Clubs and many more,” said Ruth. “Sometimes I’ve had a few of the cow alarm clocks go off in the middle of the night after visitors have been here so I’m getting out of bed looking to find them and turn it off.” One of her more interesting guests was actress Tippi Hedren who was born in nearby Lafayette. “The town had it’s Centennial celebration in 2000 and she was the Grand Marshal for the parade,” recalled Ruth. “We expected that she’d be staying in a hotel but she stayed here at my house with her sister after visiting the moo-seum and enjoying it so much.” The nearby town of Klossner was named by Gov. John Lind after Ruth’s great uncle Jacob who once owned the land. “My ancestors heritage is mainly Swiss and cows are a part of many families in Switzerland so I guess the interest in them has transcended to me,” she explained. Klossner is happy to show people the unique cow collection. Appointments for moo-seum visits can be scheduled by calling her at 507-240-0048 or e-mail email@example.com “Cows have always been part of my life so I never expect to stop looking or sell any of my collection…I hope it doesn’t get split up and can remain together for others to enjoy in the future.”