Despite an unexpected one-hour delay, dozens of community members in Mount Angel patiently waited at the public library on Thursday, eager to meet the Willamette Valley's fastest-growing celebrity personality.
After all, what child wouldn't want to get a selfie with arguably the world's most famous llama?
Caesar the No Drama Llama — the Jefferson-based camelid with his own Facebook page, Instagram account and following of loyal fans — received pictures and hugs from Mount Angel residents at the public library's final event of the summer heading into the 2019-20 school year. The event was free of charge to the public, as are all of Caesar's appearances as he tours around the Willamette Valley each week making appearances at events, businesses, parties and other gatherings.
"Our slogan is hugs and pets are always free," said Ariel Knox, Caesar's social media director and event organizer.
While Caesar doesn't charge a fee, Knox and Caesar's owner, Larry McCool, always ask visitors to donate if they're feeling charitable. Jackie Mills, director of the Mount Angel Public Library, urged families to bring something to the food bank as part of the event. To date, Knox estimates that Caesar has generated close to $10,000 in donations over the past year.
Pronounced "Say-Tzar" to reflect his South American heritage, Caesar rose to prominence a year ago on making a campaign appearance at Bill Burgess's kickoff party for Marion County Commissioner.
There McCool met Knox, who was volunteering for Burgess at the time, and the two partnered to organize more public appearances for Caesar. About a month later, Larry and Caesar traveled to Pioneer Square in Portland and ran into Gov. Kate Brown, who posed for a photo with Caesar.
"Unbeknownst to me there was an AP photographer, and that picture went viral," Knox said, noting that the photo ran in the Daily Mail and New York Post, among other worldwide media outlets.
In February, Caesar took a train ride on the MAX in Portland, and the event was covered by EFV, the fourth-largest news organization in the world, which did videos and articles in Spanish for worldwide distribution.
"An ad guy said, conservatively speaking, a billion different people saw it," Knox said. "Even if just a fraction of people paid attention, he's gotten a lot of attention."
Four-year-old Caesar's mercurial rise in popularity has made him an attractive guest, and his handlers are careful to make sure he isn't overly taxed. Knox estimates each public visit can take upwards of four or five hours when accounting for grooming, feeding and travel time. Caesar's tardiness at the Mount Angel Public Library was due to unexpected rain at a previous event in Stayton that morning, forcing McCool to spend several hours drying and brushing his hair.
"Nobody wants to hug a wet llama," Knox said.
Despite all the attention, Caesar is true to his "No Drama" name and is gentle and calm around children, pets and media members.
"If you guys are all standing in front of him with your cell phones out, he'll look at each lens," Knox said. "He'll hear the clicking of my camera and turn toward the camera."
For Mills, getting Caesar was a particularly special coup at the end of the summer reading season.
"Once summer reading is over, people stop using the library, and this brings a lot of interest in that," she said. "It was nice to have people come back for something exciting at the library besides summer reading."