- Associated Press - Saturday, July 18, 2015

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) - Jennifer Forester lives in a pretty nice neighborhood.

Her neighbors are West Virginia University administrators, professors and doctors. Morgantown High School is a short walk from her front door.

But every now and then, the tranquility of the block is shattered by a drive-by . mooing.

“It usually starts in the fall when the students come back,” Forester said from the front porch of 21 Wilson Ave., better known to locals as the iconic Cow House. “They pull up, moo, and then pull off real quick. We used to run out to try and catch them, and then we’d invite them up on the porch for a beer.”

The two-story white house, which is covered in black splotches and cow-inspired kitsch from foundation to roof, continues to draw lots of attention 23 years after Forester and her family moved in.

It’s not at all uncommon for strangers to leave cow-inspired gifts on the front lawn.

“One time, someone left this massive sign of a Santa cow that says ‘Moo-ry Christmas,’” she said. “I put it up every year.”

The motif continues inside, where hundreds upon hundreds of cow tchotchkes, tapestries, masks, stained glass windows and other pieces of decor can be found.

The kitchen is wallpapered in cow print, as is the bathroom. The refrigerator is covered with black magnet spots. Even tiny details like light switch covers and kitchen cupboard handles maintain the black and white theme.

Asked how many cows she owns Forester throws her hands up in resignation.

“I honestly don’t know. A thousand?” she offers.

Over the years, she’s encountered several people who have heard stories about how the cow house came to be. She said the real story is pretty simple.

“I like cows,” she said. “I think I first got into cows from The Far Side, the comic.”

Forester, 58, is a native of the Tyler County community of Sistersville, but has lived in Morgantown since 1987. The move to what would later become the Cow House was one of necessity.

By the fall of 1992, Forester was sharing a tiny mobile home near the football stadium with her two daughters, her sister Betsy and Betsy’s three children. The seven humans were co-habitating with three dogs.

“I was like, ‘Man, I need a big house that’s cheap,’” she said.

A friend knew of a property for sale in the South Park neighborhood. It had most recently been used as a place of worship by members of the Unification Church, the denomination founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and famed in the 1960s and ‘70s for its mass weddings.

“You know how some things are just supposed to be?” she said. “We got the house for $52,000. It was the deal of the century.”

A quick look at real estate websites shows that houses in that neighborhood now go for about $300,000.

After moving in, the sisters from Sistersville got to work on major renovations. They refinished all of the floors and wooden trim throughout the house, among numerous other projects.

One day, as they were expecting a visit from their father, they decided to get in some exterior painting.

“Our dad was a man of few words,” Forester said.

They decided to see if they could get a rise out of him by painting black blotches along the bottom of the house. When he arrived, he said hello to his daughters and quietly went inside. Not a word about the patches. It was decided they would stay.

Their mother was another matter.

“She would say, ‘Girls, you can’t do that. It’s tacky.’ So of course that just made us want to do it more,” she said.

Forester began collecting cow figurines not long after. Betsy, the more artistic of the two, then started making wooden cow cutouts for the outside of the house.

It snowballed from there.

She goes on shopping sprees every once in a while. The advent of shopping websites like Amazon have nearly been her downfall.

“Sometimes I’ll just type in ‘Holstein’ and see what comes up,” she said.

Cows aren’t the only thing that make the home unusual.

For example, although Betsy moved out years ago, a piece of her quite literally remains in the home. Her finger, to be precise.

Severed in an accident at WVU’s Creative Arts Center, the finger now resides in a jar of preservative fluid in Forester’s dining room.

Other oddities in the home include:

- A dehydrated Chihuahua named C-Bug. The dog was a beloved pet during his life, although he had a reputation for being incredibly noisy and rebellious. After his death, Forester decided to have a company in Keyser preserve him. He sits on a shelf in the parlor.

- A sort of shrine to actor Johnny Depp. Every year at Halloween, Forester dresses up as a character portrayed by the actor and has her picture taken. Each costume is documented in a large frame that hangs just over C-Bug’s head.

- The preserved gallbladder of her other sister, Joanna.

“She convinced the person doing her surgery that she needed to keep it for ‘religious reasons’ and we added it to the collection,” she said.

The house is much less crowded these days. Just Forester and her husband, John Oughton, live there now. The two were married in 1996, and Forester is quick to point out that, yes, the cow house was already established before they said “I do.”

“He knew what he was getting himself into,” she said of Oughton.

In fact, in the more than two decades since she bought the house, only one person has had any beef with her decorating style.

About six years ago, she decided to have the house re-appraised. Forester said the appraiser was anything but complimentary.

“He said, ‘You do realize you are lowering your neighbors’ property values?’” she said.

She was unfazed. The criticism went in one ear and out the udder.

“What an old sour puss,” she said. “I told him that every one of my neighbors bought their house after I did this. None of them have a problem with it.”

She admits she has thought about what might happen to all of her cows after she dies. She said she’s confident, though, that her daughters will keep most of them.

She’s often asked what she would do if she woke up one day to find she suddenly hates cows. She thinks the question is pretty silly.

“Why would I ever stop liking cows?” she said.

As for the drive-bys? Forester and Oughton don’t mind them, but politely request they be kept to daylight hours when no one is trying to sleep.


Information from: Charleston Daily Mail, https://www.charlestondailymail.com

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