That's Soooo Cincinnati

Days of Swine & Roses

Ryan Greis

Why is the pig such an icon for Cincinnati? Why indulge in a Flying Pig Marathon or a Big Pig Gig?

Once the nation's largest pork-packing center, the city earned the moniker "Porkopolis" and hogged it for the first half of the 19th century. Cincinnati slaughterhouses supplied the tables of the British Navy and even Queen Victoria's royal table.

There was no garbage collection in the 1800s because of the swine that freely roamed the downtown city blocks, eating as they waddled. In 1832, Frances Trollope wrote her stabbing Domestic Manners of the Americans, in which she bashed Cincinnati as a barbaric urban center where residents lived with livestock.

The impact of our porcine-based economy is felt even today: Candle-maker James Gamble and entrepreneur William Procter discovered that a byproduct, pork fat, could be used to develop a high-quality soap, which they cut into small blocks. Their little suds business is still something of a going concern.

Our hog wild legacy isn't always without controversy. The first time pigs were the subject of public art, the results were anything but amusing. Sculptor Andy Liecester erected his whimsical flying pig statues at the entrance of Sawyer Point Park on the riverfront in the late 1980s, positioning them high atop four smokestacks in tribute to the steamboats that once dominated Ohio River and transported the sausage. The winged pig statues divided the town in a furious way even the infamous Mapplethorpe art exhibit couldn't.

But the more recent porcine public art project, the Big Pig Gig, never managed to inspire such ire, if only because the pig statues were so humorous and good-natured. The tongue-in-cheek (or is that hoof-in-mouth?) creations included such characters as Hamlet, Pigaletto, Pigasso, Porkemon, Dr. Frankenswine, Pig-mailion and Road Hog. (If you weren't here for the Gig, consult CityBeat Arts Editor Rick Pender's definitive book, Pigs in the City.)

All in all, pork-barreling of all types has made many a Cincinnatian rich. Bringing home the bacon by bringing home the bacon. That's soooo Cincinnati.

THAT'S SOOOO CINCINNATI highlights the area's quirky assets, hidden gems, unique personalities and criminal secrets — and reprises one of the most popular features in CityBeat's 10-year history.

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