Saturday, January 3, 2004

Traveling pig writes home often

Geography lesson comes in form of stuffed tourist

By Carl Weiser
Enquirer Washington Bureau

[IMAGE] Buckeye Babe poses in front of the White House.
(Photo provided)
WASHINGTON - Buckeye Babe is one well-traveled pig.

The stuffed swine is the class mascot for Deb Lofland's third grade at Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Anderson Township. As part of a geography lesson, the pig has been sent on a house-hopping adventure.

Buckeye Babe gets mailed from city to city, and the peripatetic pig won't be back in Cincinnati until the end of the school year.

In the meantime, those who get the pig in the mail take photos of it in their cities, and send those photos - along with local souvenirs - to the class.

"It's pretty cool to learn about the different places," said third-grader Katie Curoe of Anderson Township.

All of Babe's stops are at the homes of friends or families of students. This is the third year Lofland has sent the pig on a journey. Two Buckeye Babes are in the mail this year because the class wasn't sure one pig would be able to hit all 22 addresses in one school year.

For the first time this year, Buckeye Babe made a stop outside the United States, in Vienna, Austria. From that excursion, the class got back photos of the pig in front of a castle, at the world's oldest zoo, and some Austrian currency, Lofland said.

"We learned they have buckeyes over there, too," Katie said.

From a stop in suburban Chicago, the class learned that city was home to the nation's tallest building, the Sears Tower, she said.

The Babe even made a stop in Washington, where it posed in front of the White House. It also posed with one of Ohio's Republican senators, George Voinovich, and Rep. John Boehner, a West Chester Republican.

Buckeye Babe is supposed to spend no more than a week in each location. On its itinerary: El Paso, Texas; Tucson, Ariz., and more than a dozen other states - plus its stop in Vienna.

"Our class is interested in learning about our country. And we thought the best way was to send a representative from Ohio, Buckeye Babe, to different states," reads the letter sent to those who get the pig in the mail.

It asks the recipients to send the class interesting facts about their state, take photos of Buckeye Babe on location, and send the pig on to the next person on the class' list.

The class tracks the pig's trip on a map in the classroom where students post photos.

The pig-in-the-mail adventure is a variation of the "roaming gnome" prank. That started in the 1980s when someone would "kidnap" garden gnomes and send back to the gnome-owner photos of the gnome in various locations around the world; in front the Eiffel Tower, on a beach, in front of Buckingham Palace. There's even an organized Garden Gnome Liberation Front based in France.

Lofland said she first used a traveling mascot, Tarheel Teddy, at a school where she taught in Charlotte, N.C. When her husband was transferred to Cincinnati, she brought the idea with her to Immaculate Heart of Mary and capitalized on Cincinnati's porkopolis roots.

"In May, both pigs will come back," she said. "And the pigs will be covered with pins and ribbons and memorabilia."


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