"Charlotte's Web," which author E.B. White called "a story of friendship and salvation on a farm," tells how a clever spider named Charlotte saves Wilbur the pig from slaughter. HarperCollins Publishers wanted photos for an upcoming reprint of the children's classic, and the pictures were shot last week on John L. Batey's farm about 25 miles southeast of Nashville.
Batey said he didn't recollect the moral of the story -- or the potential for publicity -- when he told a reporter the piglet was destined to be sold within the year.
When the prospect of Wilbur becoming pork chops was reported, the phone at Batey's farm started ringing.
Calls from Canada, Boston, Chattanooga and the publisher in New York urged clemency for the pig.
"I am married to a lovely man, and anyone who knows John knows he would be honest and fair to everyone," said Melissa Batey about her husband. "But he didn't read the book. I had to point out that the farmer was not the good guy until the end of the book."
So now Batey, who has raised livestock for decades, has named the pig Wilbur and pledged to keep him forever in a specially built pig pad down on the farm. A nutritionist will be consulted on developing a special diet so Wilbur doesn't, well, make a pig of himself.
"I wasn't going to be the bad old farmer in the book," Batey said. "I'm going to be keeping him myself."
Wilbur even went to church on Sunday, where the preschoolers know Charlotte's Web well and lavished him with hugs and pets.
"I just didn't know he was going to be so famous," Batey said. "He's become a hall of famer real fast."