Church of Barbaro: Rallying Behind a Horse's Death

"I brought something that reminds me of Barbaro," she says, her voice soft and soothing. "Great Barbaro. I love to pass him around. He's wearing that No. 8. Now I'd like you to pass him around like you'd pass something special." She hands it to the right. The teacher. "It's not just about a stuffed animal," Goshen says. "It's about what you find special."

They pass it around. The teacher looks at his face. A few pet him. The room is quiet. One kid checks under his tiny, stuffed ears.

"That's how you can pass feelings back and forth in this very difficult world," Goshen says.

"It's soft," a student says.

Goshen smiles. They are all children now.

The Communion

If you thought passing around a stuffed horse was as out there as it gets, please refer to the first rule of FOBs: Don't ever assume you've reached the edge. Meet Sharon Crumb, who is wearing her "Believe in Barbaro, Believe in Miracles" T-shirt for inspiration. She needs it.

It was her idea to throw a small party for the friends she's made on Brown's site at Delaware Park for Barbaro's birthday. Now there are 550 guests and counting, from all over the world, one all the way from South Africa. They're less Fans of Barbaro now than Fans of Each Other. What began as a virtual community, then ventured into the real world, then took its message to the classrooms of Brooklyn, is now ready to complete the transition from cyberspace to terra firma. They're ready for reality. This is big. Crumb can't sit down.

"I'm too nervous," she says. "I didn't expect this."

Crumb's apprehension is understandable. The FOBs are walking dangerous ground, with problems both existential and specific. What happens when a virtual community becomes real? Can it still exist? Will there be a social reordering based upon outward appearance? Will the well-dressed and good-looking and wealthy suddenly be more important when they all return to the Internet on Monday? How are they gonna get enough birthday cake? Where are they gonna sit? Do they go with their real or screen names on the tags? Bea Gobee, Crumb's friend and fellow FOB, has come over to help. Whatever the risks or logistical headaches, both agree that it's time.

"Now we're finally gonna get to meet," Gobee says. "Now it's one great big group hug that we needed to do three months ago."

"Since his injury," Crumb says, "we've all been crying in front of our computer."

"If Barbaro had not made it [as long as he did]," Gobee says, "we wouldn't be here as a group."

Crumb nods. "We wouldn't be fighting for horses," she says. "We're forever. We gonna constantly be working to improve the lives of horses in the name of Barbaro. We all feel like we owe him something. I know I do."

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