Capt. Bob’s Bull statue gets new home in Delaware
DAGSBORO, Del. (AP) — Some people living in Delmarva may be surprised to hear that a giant bull statue is set to stand outside a Dagsboro family farm next year.
But for many who have lived in and around Ocean City and Chincoteague, it’s simply the next adventure for the 44-year-old Eastern Shore landmark.
“It was a must-have,” said Paul Parsons, owner of Parsons Farms, the statue’s new location after the purchase in August.
Parsons credits his mother, Cora Parsons, for finding the storied statue on Facebook and getting in touch with its most recent owners in Chincoteague, where it has been for 15 years. Most remember the bull, famous for wearing sunglasses, a chef’s hat and scarf, from its days on 64th Street in Ocean City, where it blazoned Capt. Bob’s Steak and Seafood House for nearly three decades until the restaurant closed in 2003.
Parsons grew up visiting the bull at Capt. Bob’s, named after the owner, Bob Wilkerson, who passed away in 2013. He now plans to have the edifice outside the market on Armory Road, where he hopes it will advertise the family farm’s locally raised beef and on-farm bakery starting in the spring.
“The chef’s hat is going to go great with all that,” Parsons said, adding that the bull will be “back to, hopefully, the way everybody remembered him.”
The statue is being restored in at a custom fiberglass repair shop in Ocean City known for its boat work and large blue crab sculptures of the same material seen around town.
The towering fiberglass statue, estimated to weigh over 1,000 pounds, has resided in Chincoteague on a plot of land behind Maria’s restaurant on Maddox Boulevard, where those unfamiliar with its history mused over its increasingly hazy origins. Those familiar with Capt. Bob’s, meanwhile, feared it was becoming a forgotten piece of Delmarva’s past.
For the owner’s daughter, Donna Wilkerson-Gutridge, the bull was also a large part of her upbringing. She didn’t know it had a new home until she got a call on Nov. 7.
It was her friend who was traveling behind a trailer carrying the ungulate on its side down Route 611 on its way to Ocean City, where it is being restored.
“I’m stoked,” Wilkerson-Gutridge said.
She added that she thought about restoring the bull herself, but wasn’t sure where she would have put it once it was refurbished.
“He’d look kind of funny as a lawn ornament,” she said.
The statue, dubbed “Mr. Ocean City,” or otherwise known as “Capt. Bob’s bull,” stood proudly outside the family-run restaurant from the mid-1970s until 2003, when the restaurant closed, family members say.
“My dad was always a very astute businessman,” Wilkerson-Gutridge said. “He wanted something that would set us apart from all the other places up and down the beach.”
Ocean City native Bob Wilkerson and his wife, Kayrell, were master barbers and co-owners of the Delaware Barber School in Wilmington until they relocated to Ocean City in the 1960s and opened up a restaurant, Capt. Bob’s Steak and Seafood House, on Coastal Highway and 64th Street.
Then, several years into the business, the owners decided it was time to redecorate.
Kayrell Wilkerson said her late husband decided on the large statue outside his restaurant after spotting a similar steer outside a business in Pompano Beach, Florida. He eventually found a Wisconsin company that custom-made these fiberglass sculptures, from which he commissioned a customized bovine.
The company initially offered to put a large cigar in the bull’s mouth but ultimately decided to give it a checkered chef’s scarf and a pair of beach-ready sunglasses instead, family members said.
The fiberglass sculpting company is likely the same one that’s still up and running in Sparta, Wisconsin. The organization said it does not have financial records dating back to the time of Bob Wilkerson’s purchase.
But its general manager, Darren Schauf, said he is “confident” that the bull came from their company, which he said still employs some of the same artists it had 45 years ago.
“They really become icons for communities, especially smaller communities,” Shauf said about the statues. “They can end up becoming almost symbols or logos. When they disappear, people are genuinely disappointed.”
Some believe the bull stood outside another store in Beltsville in the 1960s, followed by a stint as the gold-painted bull on top of the Golden Bull restaurant in Adelphi that has since shut its doors. But accounts from natives and the Wilkerson family dismiss those theories as urban myths.
If you ask Wilkerson-Gutridge, the bull arrived to Delmarva in 1974. The family waited at the restaurant for the towering, bespectacled bullock to come rolling down Coastal Highway. They were surprised when, instead of being hauled by a tractor-trailer, the restaurant’s mascot and soon-to-be town staple arrived on a flatbed tugged by a station wagon.
“We thought it would be so much heavier,” said Wilkerson-Gutridge. “I can’t imagine the stares and the comments as it came down the country, going down Route 70.”
Any stares from Midwestern drivers on its road trip to the Eastern Shore would be just the beginning. Many remember the ox donning homemade costumes, made from king-size bed sheets and chicken wire, for each holiday: a ghost costume for Halloween (“Boo Bull”), bunny ears for Easter, a baby diaper for the New Year and an “Uncle Sam” beard for the Fourth of July — outfits that were routinely designed by Kayrell Wilkerson and her sister, Loretta.
“It was good advertising,” said Kayrell Wilkerson.
But the attention soon led to pranks. Many remember illicit, after-hour attempts to climb the towering edifice under the streetlights in the summer heat.
This happened so often, Wilkerson-Gutridge said, that her father would cover the monument in petroleum jelly to deter people from hurting themselves when scaling his gargantuan, eponymous bull. At some point, Kayrell Wilkerson said, the owner even surrounded the beacon of their business with a fence.
Its signature sunglasses eventually broke after multiple attempts from visitors, some less gentle than others, who tried to steal them. The bull would eventually get a makeover with homemade metal frames and a red scarf, one of several re-paintings that Kayrell Wilkerson had done, which it would then wear all throughout its time in Chincoteague.
“If I had a dime for every picture taken of that bull, I’d have long been retired,” Wilkerson-Gutridge said. “You’d say ‘Capt. Bob’s’ and they’d say, ‘The place with the big bull with the sunglasses?’ It really put us on the map.”
Sharon Lynch, a previous employee of the restaurant, said the bull served to show that Bob Wilkerson, known for cracking jokes and taking pride in his business, “backs his food up.” The statue sent a message that his ribs and steaks all came from the “best fed bull,” she said.
People would pull in without planning to have dinner, Lynch said, because they saw the bull. Tourists constantly asked questions about it: Where did it come from? How much did it weigh?
Tim and Kayrell Wilkerson said that they would meet people when traveling across the world — Jamaica, Mexico, North Carolina — who knew about the bull when they mentioned their family restaurant in Ocean City.
“The bull is what had the reputation,” Lynch said. “Once people come down in the summertime, they would tell their friends. And their friends would come. They would say, ‘Just look for the bull.’”
For Lynch, the bull represents a part of her life that she remembers fondly.
“So much of my life was in that restaurant,” said Lynch, who worked multiple summers for over two decades at Capt. Bob’s starting in her early teenage years. “It really kind of made me for who I am.”
Like many on Delmarva, she often wondered about the bull after it was sold. After the restaurant closed, she began working in retail and was often asked about Capt. Bob’s for years following.
“I really missed it,” Lynch said, adding that she “can’t wait” to see the bull once it is restored. “I thought about it all the time. . . . I just thought that bull would be there forever. I don’t know why.”
But she doesn’t make a lot of visits to the restaurant’s location, which has since been replaced by Dead Freddies Island Grill.
“I can’t even go by there now,” Lynch said. “They changed it. The bull’s not there, it’s not right.”
When the family business closed and began auctioning off its belongings, Parsons and his father were perusing the walk-in coolers when they noticed the bull was also up for sale.
“We really wanted to bull,” he said.
But for years, it would be a pipe dream. The bull was instead auctioned off to George Katsetos, owner of Maria’s in Chincoteague, who kept it next to his restaurant for a short time before the county told him that the bull exceeded an ordinance prohibiting statues over 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide.
The conflict wasn’t unlike that of the original, late owner’s claimed disputes with Ocean City government, though his wife remembers him convincing the town it was “just a big lawn ornament.”
Katsetos wasn’t as lucky, and had to place the bull behind his building where it would stay until last month. During that time, circa 2008, workers were cutting trees when the debris impaled the bull’s backside, leaving a hole still in need of repair.
But Katsetos said never stopped road-trippers from visiting Mr. Ocean City starting the first week it arrived to his property. A high school senior class even took their school picture with bull one year, and just last month, several college students from the College of William & Mary took pictures with the statue, he said.
Some of those visitors included other potential buyers. One was Bradley Wells, who works for one of the “Bull on the Beach” restaurants in Ocean City.
Wells, who also remembers the bull from its days outside Capt. Bob’s, envisioned restoring the animal and putting it either on top of or beside the restaurant, which is adjacent to the ocean, so that “we would actually have a bull on the beach.”
But a busy summer season, he said, slowed him down from finalizing the purchase.
Schauf said a new version of the statue would cost just over $20,000 today. Katsetos and Parsons would not disclose how much the bull was sold for in August, but Katsetos said it was a “real good bargain,” adding that he “just wanted somebody to take it and fix it.”
The Chincoteague resident claims to have spent $2,500 on the statue when he bought it from the Wilkerson family in 2003.
Kayrell Wilkerson said she visited the bull in Chincoteague several years ago, but was sad to see it had been damaged.
“I was just heartsick,” she said. “I said, ‘I’ll never go back.’”
Parsons, a self-proclaimed lover of history, hopes to get the bull back to its original look so that passersby recognize it from its Ocean City days. He wants people to drive by and say, “I know where that bull came from.”
“It’s wonderful,” Kayrell Wilkerson said. “My Mr. Ocean City bull will bring him in some business.”
Parsons said he also plans to continue the tradition of costumes for each holiday, and let people take pictures of it when they visit so that “you don’t lose the history of it.” He added that the bull will require security and safety measures, which will likely include 24/7 surveillance.
“He (Parsons) is appreciating that this is not just some fiberglass animal,” Wilkerson-Gutridge said. “He (the bull) had a great life, and now he is continuing that. ... It’s just heartwarming to know that my family had that much impact on people’s vacations and memories and lives.”
Information from: The Daily Times of Salisbury, Md., http://www.delmarvanow.com/