Monday, June 16, 1998 -- Williamstown, Vermont - One morning, two decades ago, William Knight was working in his wood shop on the side of a large, rugged hill in this small town a few miles south of Montpelier. To this day, he credits his wife's artistic eye for his climb to the top of the spider web industry.

That historic day, she noticed a spider web along the shop wall. It had been covered with fine sawdust and it made a striking image, so she photographed it. The couple became intrigued with the beautiful structure and attempted to collect it by laying it against a rock.

When this didn't work, William became determined to find a way to preserve these mysterious, elusive objects. He has since found a nearly perfect method using wood.

In open barns near his shop, William has built matrices of frames, each just the right size for a spider web. He lets common barn spiders romp around the place, encouraging their populations with coffee cans and makeshift trays. On a good day there will be about a thousand of these arachnids crawling around out there.

During the night, the spiders get busy, spinning delicate, yet deadly webs, hoping for a good day's catch of houseflies (yum!) Then, one hour before sunrise, William is out there to greet his workers and to rob them of the product of their toils.

This is the time of day William enjoys the most. He methodically harvests the webs in a quiet, peaceful manner during one of the most peaceful times of day. First he sprays the webs with a white dye or paint. Then he takes a finished pine board, treated and still wet with a tacky, clear substance, and lays the board against the web. The web sticks to the board and he sets it down for drying.

Would you like this man's jobs? Collecting spider webs before dawn and charging property taxes all day.

On an average day William will collect ten to twenty spider webs - on his best day he harvested thirty. He sells them in a small store below his wood shop. Not one to turn down business - nor to pick a fight - William once refused to help a gang of Canadian bikers. They wanted to have real spider webs applied to the gas tanks of their motorcycles. William didn't believe it could be done, safely. He appeased them by mounting a web on one of the biker's helmets.

Why does he enjoy collecting webs? "You're alone... in the morning - it's beautiful," he tells me. "Sometimes I just sit and watch them spin their webs and I talk to the birds. It's very relaxing."

"This experience has made me much more aware of the delicate balance of nature," he says. "I won't even swat a fly now - it's all part of the food chain."

The webs William's spiders spin are hardly made of gold and so he works another job, as the tax assessor for the nearby town of Barre, Vermont. "It's one hundred, eighty degrees different," he says about the contrast between working with the spider webs before sunrise and assessing taxes all day. "When people come up there (to the web farm) they ask me what I do. When they come here they tell me what to do."

A real spider's web, treated and mounted, a part of the collection at Knight's spider web farm, the only farm of its kind in the world.

Check out the Holy Cow! Archives
for other flying objects...

Return to our
MAIN page