For me, this is the “Slow” Period. My colleagues and I always put air quotes around that because there really is no “Slow” Period for us. There’s the Really, Really Busy Period and Slightly Less Busy Period. With exhibitions now open, I’m able to catch up on projects, including the annual location inventory. Literally just ensuring things are where they’re supposed to be, according to our records (a more in-depth comprehensive inventory is completed every two years).

This gives me time in storage, where I crank up the tunes and just plug away at verifying the Register. As a Collections Manager (and Virgo), I find this very therapeutic and satisfying. It aligns with the mantra of my father (and fellow Virgo), a place for everything and everything in its place.

As I was doing inventory, and with Thrill of the ‘Chace: Steeplechase in Art on the brain, the below two prints caught my eye: A Country Horse Race after artist William Mason (British, 1725—1797). They aren’t steeplechase scenes. Rather, they depict a flat race.

In the first, chaos ensues as two jockeys make their way to the starting line. As explained in Thrill of the ‘Chace, steeplechase and flat races were attended across classes. Many sat in the grandstands whilst others on horseback or in carriages lined the rail or positioned themselves along the course.

(after) William Mason (English, 1724-1797) A Country Race Course with Horses Preparing to Start, 1786 aquatint, 16 1/2 x 25 inches
National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Mrs. Parker Poe, 1978

As an introvert, I get anxiety just looking at these. There are people literally everywhere getting into all manner of trouble. There is so much to see and something new each time you look at it, it reminds me of a Pieter Brueghel the Elder painting, or a Mel Brooks movie.

In the right foreground, the jockey in blue vertical stripes looks like he’s being harassed but look closer and look towards the hands. Money is being exchanged between the two men. The man on the right doesn’t even look like a real person, he looks more like a gargoyle, almost personifying his wickedness. The horse, who seems to look at us with pleading eyes, is about to be given wine.[1] Looks like someone is about to throw a race.

A Country Horse Race, Preparing to Start (detail)

The left foreground shows a woman in a post-chaise carriage, but no one seems to care that she is of the upper class because they’ve commandeered her accommodations for themselves. A sailor, in wonderfully blue pants, catches a ride as the man above him has thrown his leg over a brazen woman’s shoulder, which seems like one of many accidents getting ready to happen.

A Country Horse Race, Preparing to Start (detail)

The center right shows another carriage with a man hanging out the window and two figures on top getting into an altercation. It says something that it’s hard to tell if it’s playful or not.

A Country Race Course, Preparing to Start (detail)

Figures crowd the middle, the grandstands, and the rail giving me heart palpitations. I find the three figures in the announcer’s box particularly comical. Facing different directions, observing this mess of an event from the relative safety of their perch, it’s as if they just don’t know what to do. The man with the horn (and furrowed brow), trying to start the race, and with it, perhaps, bring some semblance of order. Sorry, sir, that ship has sailed.

A Country Race Course, Horses Preparing to Start (detail)

The atmospheric perspective provides a sense of depth, emphasizing the extent of the countryside, and in the back right, we see a church steeple. A study of this print is currently in the collection of The British Museum. Click here to see it. When you’re there, click on Related Objects to see other works of art by Mason, including another race scene.

The second print shows the course as the jockeys race towards the finish line on a flat dirt track. The grandstands can be seen in the background. At this point, my heart rate has only increased, and my palms are sweaty. Crowds of figures ride along, pacing the action, as others watch on the sidelines, cheering them on. 

(after) William Mason (English, 1724-1797) A Country Race Course with Horses Running, 1786 aquatint, 16 1/2 x 25 inches National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Mrs. Parker Poe, 1978

In the lower right-hand corner, a man and woman, and basket of pies, have been knocked over. How did they not hear thundering hooves behind them? To be fair, it seems completely possible the riders went off course. Regardless, this has set off a chain reaction, scaring the dog and boy, who startle the horses. We see a different type of carriage in the foreground, a high phaeton. In the middle, a couple are sharing a horse. Next to them on the left is a woman sitting sidesaddle.

A Country Horse Race with Horses Running (detail)

The “rocking horse pose” of the galloping horses is typical of the time, thanks to prolific British sporting artist George Stubbs (British, 1724—1806), who popularized the erroneous portrayal. This pose would endure for at least another century until the birth of photography and Eadweard Muybridge’s famous stop-motion photographs.

A Country Horse Race, Horses Running (detail)

An interesting question I posed to our George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Curator Claudia Pfeiffer is whether these figures on horseback directly behind the jockeys are spectators trying to keep up or amateur gentlemen riders. She replied that they were probably both, and likely foxhunters, as well.

What these two prints show best are the crowds. The range of classes, as exemplified by the different modes of transportation and attire, are out to enjoy (or “enjoy”) the day of sport and socializing. But as is typical of satire, it’s been turned into a caricature. Or has it? Satire is a mirror that shows us for who we are, maybe it’s not that off base?

I’ve about had my fill of A Country Horse Race. But if anyone is interested in seeing them, they are currently hanging in the Founders’ Room. Make sure to call the Library first to arrange a time to see them. If you are interested in a history of jump racing, click here for a link to the virtual exhibition of Thrill of the ‘Chace

[1] https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_2011-7084-51

Lauren Kraut is the Collections Manager at the National Sporting Library & Museum. Her primary focus is to maintain and preserve the works of art in the collection and on loan. Email her at lkraut@NationalSporting.org

Although the legendary horses of flat racing are generally more well known to the population at large, there are horses within the steeplechasing community that enjoy the same level of fame as any flat racer. One such hero was a bay gelding called Saluter, who would rise from inauspicious beginnings to win the Virginia Gold Cup six years in a row.

Saluter. National Steeplechase Association, American Steeplechasing 1995, page 274, photo by Doug Lees.

Saluter was born in 1989 on Rose Estes’s farm in Virginia. He was purchased as a yearling by Richard Small who tried him at both flat races and hurdle races with disappointing results. In 1993 Small sold the horse to steeplechase jockey and trainer Jack Fisher for $2500. Soon after Henry and Ann Stern of Richmond, Virginia purchased a half interest in the horse. Fisher trained Saluter as a timber racer and the longer races suited the horse well. That fall Saluter won in upstate New York and again at Montpelier for the Virginia Hunt Cup. The following spring he would win the first of six consecutive (1994-1999) Virginia Gold Cup races at Great Meadow in The Plains, Virginia.

Saluter
Saluter (left) in action. Photo from The Sahuarita Sun.

During his career he would also win the International Gold Cup and the Radnor Hunt Cup twice, and the Virginia Hunt Cup four times. In 1997 he followed up a Virginia Gold Cup win with a trip to England where he won the Marlborough Cup. Winning both races in the same year earned him the title World Timber Champion and a $100,000 bonus. By the end of his racing career Saluter would win a record 21 timber races, and rake in $429,489 in timber earnings.

Saluter and Jack Fisher. Peter Winants, Steeplechasing: A Complete History of the Sport in North America (2000), page 236.

Jack Fisher, Saluter’s regular rider as well as his trainer, has commented that the horse’s strength was his ability to accelerate from a gallop to a sprint. Longer races allowed the horse to build up his momentum and then kick in the afterburners to run down the competition late in the race. This racing style led to exciting victories where the crowd could see Saluter come from behind and win over the last few jumps. His dramatic style combined with his winning streak at the Virginia Gold Cup caused Saluter’s popularity to soar and in turn brought crowds to the racecourse. Creating new steeplechase fans may be his longest lasting legacy to the sport even if his Gold Cup record is never broken.

Saluter and Jack Fisher. Peter Winants, Steeplechasing: A Complete History of the Sport in North America (2000), page 240.

Following the 2000 season, at 12 years of age, Saluter retired to Jack Fisher’s farm in Monkton, Maryland. In 2001 he was honored with a farewell lap at the Virginia Gold Cup at Great Meadow. A crowd of 53,000 cheered him on as he galloped around the course he had dominated for over half a decade, and William Allison, the President of the Gold Cup’s Board of Directors presented him with a bushel of carrots and apples. In retirement Saluter took up foxhunting. He would return to Great Meadow and the Gold Cup once again in 2008 to view the bronze statue of himself by sculptor Alexa King. Commemorating his six win streak, the statue was installed at the racecourse in 2007. Saluter died in 2017. He was 28 years old. Earlier this year Joe Clancy created a touching tribute to Saluter that was originally aired on the National Steeplechase Association’s live stream show covering 2020 Gold Cup races. Click through for some wonderful photos of the great horse.

Bronze statue of Saluter by Alexa King at Great Meadow. Photo by Peter Fynmere.

The Library holds many books and periodicals about steeplechasing, its great racecourses, and the colorful people and horses, both past and present, that participate in the sport. To delve into any of these resources contact the Library to make an appointment. Appointments are available Tuesday through Friday. Also consider booking a visit to see the Museum’s newest exhibit, The Thrill of the ‘Chase, which showcases the history of steeplechasing and its depiction in art. Museum tickets are available on Fridays and Saturdays and must be booked ahead of time on our website.


Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 450 years of the history of equestrian sport, fly fishing, wing shooting, other field sports, and country life.

As someone who, prior to 2012, had very limited knowledge of sporting art and artists, culture, etc., I had absolutely no idea who Mr. Jorrocks was. In March 2020, right before the pandemic stopped the world, we received a generous bequest from Mrs. Katrina Becker, a faithful friend of the museum for many years. Included in this gift was a portrait of a man with a cheery expression on his face. He made me laugh and I asked our George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Curator Claudia Pfeiffer, “who is THAT?!” She enlightened me that it was, in fact, the illustrious Mr. Jorrocks, a popular fictional character from 19th-century England.

Created by Robert Smith Surtees in the early 1830s, Mr. Jorrocks was featured in serials in the New Sporting Magazine and then in 1838, he was promoted to book form, beginning with Jorrocks’ Jaunts and Jollities; or, The Hunting, Shooting, Racing, Driving, Sailing, Eating, Eccentric and Extravagant Exploits of That Renowned Sporting Citizen, Mr. John Jorrocks, of St. Botolph Lane and Great Coram Street. Quite the teaser.

The titular character, Mr. Jorrocks, is a grocer from the city, with a sharp Cockney accent, who enjoys the sporting life. Depictions of him often show a corpulent man with a red face, generally (but not always, as seen below) in his scarlet hunt coat. He appeared in several books and was illustrated by such well-known sporting artists as Cecil Aldin (English, 1870–1935) and Henry Thomas Alken (English, 1785–1851).

R.S. Surtees’ Jorrocks’s Jaunts and Jollities, with illustrations by
Henry Alken; Longmans, Green & Co.,
Edward Arnold & Co., 1924, National Sporting Library & Museum

R.S. Surtees’ Jorrocks on ‘Unting, with illustrations by Cecil Aldin, E.P. Dutton, NY, 1909,
National Sporting Library & Museum

The writing is wonderfully colorful and descriptive. Listen to this: “He has lost his wig, his hat hangs to his back, and one side of his person and face is completely japanned with black odoriferous mixture. “My vig!” exclaims he, spitting and spluttering, “but that’s the nastiest hole I ever was in—Fleet Ditch is lavender-water compared to it! Hooi yonder!” hailing a lad, “Catch my ‘oss, boouy!” Tom Hills has him; and Jorrocks, pocketing his wig, remounts, rams his spurs into the nag, and again tackles with the pack, which had come to a momentary check on the Eden Bridge road.”

Isn’t this a beautiful cover? R.S. Surtee, Mr. Jorrocks’s Thoughts on Hunting and Other Matters, William Blackwood & Sons, Ltd. Charles Scriber’s Sons, 1925, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of John H. and Martha Daniels Collection

Surtees has been compared to Charles Dickens for his social critique (Surtees and Dickens actually used the same illustrator, Hablot Knight Browne. Browne, known as “Phiz,” illustrated Hawbuck Grange for Surtees and several Dickens’ novels including Pickwick Papers and David Copperfield). Encyclopedia Britannica describes Surtees as “a mordant satirist. The snobbery, envy, greed, and ignorance that consume many of his characters are set down without geniality. His portrayal of provincial England just leaving the coaching for the railway era exposes its boredom, ill manners, discomfort, and coarse food, and its matter-of-factness makes admirable social history. Yet the descriptions of fast runs with hounds over open country leave the most lasting impression.” I’ve only read Jaunts and Jollities, so please do correct me if I’m wrong: but it seems like an interesting viewpoint – at times we seem to laugh along with Mr. Jorrocks and others, laughing at him.

The small painting of our favorite grocer within the NSLM collection is by artist and sportsman Raoul H. Millais (English, 1901–1999). Millais undertook commissions by several familiar names, such as King George VI and Winston Churchill. Classmates with John Skeaping (English, 1901–1980) and friends with Alfred Munnings (English, 1878-1959), he, perhaps not surprisingly, disapproved of Modernist art, calling it “the Picasso lark.” Our charming piece shows Mr. Jorrocks standing in front of his horse, which is almost as big as he is, with a jolly smile and holding a pint. He is wearing his customary scarlet coat and hunt cap as the hounds mill about behind him. They take up the entire canvas. Mr. Jorrocks looks directly as us, as if he is inviting us to join him.

Raoul H. Millais, Mr. Jorrocks, 20th c., oil on canvas,
9 1/2 x 7 1/2 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Katrina Hickox Becker, 2020.

Does “Millais” ring other bells? Raoul Millais is the grandson of Pre-Raphaelite John Everett Millais (English, 1829–1896). He produced the famous painting of Ophelia (1851–52) and one of my favorites, Christ in the House of his Parents (1849–50). The details in that are extraordinary, and honestly, I could discuss the symbolism for hours (maybe another time).  

Sir John Everett Millais, Bt, Ophelia, 1851-52, oil on canvas, 30 x 44 inches, Tate Britain, London
Presented by Sir Henry Tate 1894 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N01506
Sir John Everett Millais, Bt, Christ in the House of His Parents (The Carpenter’s Shop), oil on canvas, 1849-50, 34 x 55 inches. Tate Britain, London

In the town of Croydon, south of London, is a life-size sculpture of the famed literary foxhunter. Artist John Mills (English, b. 1933) was commissioned to create a sculpture for a Waites Construction site and, whilst discussing possibilities with the patron, the latter expressed his affinity for the fictional character. It was decided that a statue depicting a specific scene of Mr. Jorrocks would be erected: the “Surrey subscription hounds gathering for their hunt at Croydon and the chaotic ride that John Jorrocks made from Covent Garden to join the hunt.” We see a very animated Mr. Jorrocks on horseback, barely holding on, crashing through a real hedge.



Our painting will make an appearance soon. In the meantime, the Library has several of Mr. Jorrocks’ adventures in its holdings. Feel free to reach out to read them for yourself!

Sources:

Encyclopedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Robert-Smith-Surtees#ref226264

Encyclopedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hablot-Knight-Browne

Footprints in London: http://footprintsoflondon.com/2015/07/what-is-this-statue-of-a-huntsman-doing-in-croydon/

Isle of Dogs Life: https://isleofdogslife.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/jorrocks-and-the-isle-of-doggians-1835/

Raoul Millais obituary in the Independent: https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/obituary-raoul-millais-1128046.html


Lauren Kraut is the Collections Manager at the National Sporting Library & Museum. Her primary focus is to maintain and preserve the works of art in the collection and on loan. Email her at lkraut@NationalSporting.org

Robert Carter III of Nomini Hall, 1753 by Thomas Hudson (1701–1779). Oil on canvas
Gift of Louise Anderson Patten, 1972.17. Image from Wikimedia Commons

The blog oftentimes focuses on items from the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Collection, but the collections in the Reading Room are just as fascinating and often provide interesting insight into the history of Virginia. I stumbled across the book, Robert Carter of Nomini Hall while reshelving several books and something about the simplicity of its cover and paperback binding intrigued me. The book, originally published in 1941, describes the life of Robert Carter III (1727-1804), an heir to a large fortune and extensive landholdings who served for two decades on the Virginia Governor’s Council, hence he nickname, “Councillor.”

While whole books could be written about various aspects of his life, the author, Louis Morton, chose to focus on the economic and social aspects of the plantation system in 18th century Virginia through the numerous records Roberts Carter III left behind.

By the time Robert Carter III was 21-years old, he owned over 70,000 acres. Most of his properties were located in the back country and Northern Neck area of Virginia. Nomini Hall was purchased by his grandfather, “King Carter” in 1710 and comprised 2,500 acres. An imposing Georgia-styled house was built by his father Robert Carter II in 1729 which was 76-feet long, 44-feet wide, and was two-stories high.

Map of Carter’s Landholdings in Virginia

Carter not only planted tobacco, but due to the crop’s vulnerability, Carter searched for less volatile sources of revenue. For a significant portion of time, Carter farmed grains and cereals instead of tobacco. He also cultivated corn for both food and business purposes, since it was corn was an acceptable form of payment for taxes. 

One of the more interesting business initiatives Carter pursued was his investment in an iron ore. Through his marriage into the Tasker family of Maryland, Carter had access to the production and markets served by Baltimore Iron Works. Carter not only produced iron for local markets in Virginia, but he made a significant amount of money selling iron to buyers in England. The iron business was able to tide Carter over when his tobacco crops were not successful.

As an heir, Carter extended his already considerable wealth as a plantation owner, manufacturer, and businessman. Carter’s wealth is reflected not only through his extensive landholdings, but through documentation of the extensive parties, dinners, and guests who stayed at Nomini Hall. Nomini Hall regularly hosted dances, balls, barbecues, card games, and other social events as well. Notably, Nomini Hall consumed “27,000 pounds of pork, twenty beeves, 550 bushels of wheat, an even larger amount of corn, four hogsheads of rum, and 150 gallons of brandy.”

Unfortunately, Carter’s success as a planter rested on the enslavement of human beings. A significant portion of the book discusses the coerced labor at Carter’s farms. During the early 18th century, the book notes that the labor force was made up of a mix of indentured servants from England who were later replaced by enslaved persons.  According to various records in 1772, 350 slaves were forced to work among his various plantations. However, a tutor employed by Carter wrote in his diary that Carter owned over 600 slaves. While the author believes the tutor’s number to be an exaggeration, in 1791, Carter listed all his slaves in a deed of manumission. That deed listed 509 slaves, aged between one day and eight-nine years old. The book, unfortunately, reflects the attitudes of the 1940s, and does not disparage the use of slaves. It is a bit disconcerting how easily the author treats slaves as economic inputs.

The last few chapters of the book depart the topic of business, manufacturing, and plantations and delves into the personal life of Robert Carter III.

“In one respect, Robert Carter, in his later years, broke sharply with his fellows of the Virginia aristocracy.” In 1776, Carter, nearly 50 years old, developed doubts regarding organized religion and turned to deism. He left deism for the then small Baptist Church in 1778. Many years later, Carter, dissatisfied with predestination, began to read the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg. So convinced was Carter about the value of the doctrine, he commissioned the first printing Swedenborgian hymnal in America. Subsequently, Carter moved to Baltimore, the unofficial seat of the Swedenborgian movement, and remained there until his death in 1804.

Carter is most remembered for the manumission of his 509 slaves which he began in 1791. In his deed for manumission, Carter stated, “I have for some time past been convinced that to retain them in Slavery is contrary to the true Principles of Religion and Justice, and that therefor it as my Duty to manumit them….” Indeed, Carter settled the freed men and women on land that he gave them.

In addition to this book, the organization, Nomini Hall Slave Legacy, which is looking to trace the descendants of the freed slaves of Nomini Hall, contains a plethora of information about Carter, Nomini Hall, and documents genealogies of the original freed slaves of Nomini Hall.

Thrill of the ‘Chace: Steeplechase in Art, the recently opened exhibition and accompanying catalogue, explore the birth, growth, and evolution of jump racing and depictions of the sport by artists through to the present day. On numerous occasions, I have been questioned about and flat out accused of an egregious typo in the title. “Chace” is not an error but an early alternate spelling. (Read about a quirky set of 1831 prints of pigs riding pigs in the Library’s collection, The Grand Steeple Chace at Hogs Norton, here.)  For readers of the Chronicle of the Horse, believe it or not, “chacing” was right under our noses for a long time. Between 1945 and 1990, the masthead featured the archaic spelling. We went with it for the exhibition for its quirky appeal and historic roots.

The Chronicle of the Horse masthead between 1945 and 1990

It is not surprising that a sport would need to develop and gain a following of enthusiasts and potential patrons and collectors before sporting artists would see the merits of depicting the pastime in earnest. Steeplechasing’s murky roots begin in Ireland with “pounding matches” in which two foxhunters, adept at navigating the natural and manicured obstacles of the countryside, ran a match race against one another along a loosely designated route until one pulled out of the race or fell. The name “steeplechase” comes from races being organized from church steeple to church steeple with multiple participants and was in use in Britain by the early 19th century. By this time, a variety of earlier activities like “shooting flying”—gunning for birds on the wing with the improvement of firearms—foxhunting, stag hunting, and coaching had already been captured by British artists such as Wenceslaus Horlor (1607–1707), John Wootton (1686–1764), James Seymour (1702–1752), George Stubbs (1724 –1806), Francis Sartorius (1734–1804), and Samuel Howitt (1756–1822). Horse racing on flat courses had also gained a national following and artistic inspiration.

The earliest images of steepchasing are races organized across the countryside. They show farmers, villagers, and foxhunters along the way, and paid spectators at the finish, enjoying the exhilarating fast-paced sport.

(after) James Pollard (British, 1775–1852), The Aylesbury Grand Steeplechase: The Light Weight Stake, plate II; one of a set of four, 1836, aquatint on paper, 15 1/4 × 20 1/2 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum,
Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Norman R. Bobins, 2012

Courses that already held flat races, such as Aintree in Liverpool, still home to the famed Grand National, began to build a variety of obstacles and incorporate steeplechasing into their racing schedules in the 1830s as well. These commercial venues driven by big crowds and gambling also became a subject for artists.

Robert Stone (British, 19th century), Steeplechasers; set of four, c. 1850, oil on panel, 6 x 12 inches, Private Collection

As more and more gentleman riders embraced the activity, a new generation of sporting artists produced oil paintings, watercolors, and prints focusing on steeplechasing. Among them Henry Thomas Alken painted the example below of Market Harborough, where races continued for decades hosted by the area hunt club, becoming a sanctioned steeplechase under the oversight of the newly formed Grand National Hunt Committee (now the National Hunt Committee) in 1866.

Object No. 2014.199 Henry Thomas Alken (English, 1785–1851) A Steeplechase at Market Harborough, Leicestershire, Bad Fall at a Paling Fence, ca. 1840-50, oil on canvas, 10 × 14 inches, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Paul Mellon Collection Photo: David Stover © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

These early images document the emergence of jump racing as an organized sport and are a teaser for Thrill of the ‘Chace: Steeplechase in Art. The eclectic array of paintings, sculptures, and works on paper in the exhibition represents the evolution of the sport and art, the variety of artistic talent, and the stories of steeplechasing from legendary to local, over the course of two centuries. The exhibit is open through March 21, 2021; for current visitation guidelines and to book tickets, please visit our website.

From left to right: Henry Stull (American, 1851–1913), Challenger, 1899, oil on canvas, 23 x 27 inches, Collection of Coleman D. Callaway, III; Henry Stull (American, 1851–1913), Flying the Liverpool, 1904, oil on canvas, 16 x 24 inches, National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame; William Smithson Broadhead (British, 1888–1960), Battleship and Edward Washington, 1955, oil on canvas, 32 1/4 x 40 inches, National Museum of Racing & Hall of Fame; Eugene Louis Lami (French, 1800–1890), Steeplechase at Raincy; set of 6, 1832, each pen and ink with watercolor on paper, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

We hope you can join us on-line for Virtual Coffee with the Curator on October 3, 2020. I will be presenting a tour of the galleries with ultra-high resolution 360° images made with 42 photographs stitched together. To register for this program, click here.


Claudia Pfeiffer is the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Curator at the National Sporting Library & Museum and has been with the organization since the position was first underwritten by the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Foundation in 2012. Her primary focus is the research, design, interpretation, writing, and installation of exhibitions. E-mail Claudia at cpfeiffer@nationalsporting.org

After exploring the NSLM’s collection of sporting books for the last four and a half years I’ve learned that while many sporting volumes were produced with commercial success in mind, many more were simply passion projects authored by true lovers of sport for the sake of celebrating a given activity and perhaps sharing their enthusiasm for it with readers, themselves likely also disciples of the sport. A lot of these volumes are quite elaborate as well, making commercial success even more unlikely. One such work is The Fishes of North America that are Captured on Hook and Line by William C. Harris (1830-1905).

Original half-title page of volume 1, published in 1898. Image from the New York Public Library.

Harris was an editor of American Angler, and a well published author of angling books. His intention with this project was to create a comprehensive work on the game fishes of North America, including not only textual information but also accompanying color illustrations. To achieve this goal he teamed up with artist John L. Petrie (19th century) and the two of them traveled the continent. Harris would fish and lay out his catch for Petrie to paint on the spot “before the sheen of their color tints had faded.” The preface of the book clearly describes their dedication to the project:

“I have been engaged nearly a quarter of a century in gathering the notes from which the text of this book has been written, and twelve years in procuring the oil portraits of living fish, caught from their native waters, that I might obtain lithographic facsimiles … The aggregate distance travelled was 28,558 miles, and the days occupied in transit and in catching and painting the fishes numbered nine hundred and seventy-two, or eighty-one working days of each angling season during twelve years. Mr. John L. Petrie, the artist, has been my steadfast companion during this protracted but pleasant task. He has painted the portraits of each fish represented … from living specimens caught on my own rod, with the exception of the Pacific Salmons, which were taken alive in traps.”

william C. Harris, In the preface to The Fishes of North America that are Captured on Hook and Line (1898). From Donald A. Heald RAre Books, Prints & Maps.
How the Work was Done by J. L. Petrie. Illustration facing the introduction. Image from Case Antiques.

Harris had planned to publish the final work in two volumes each featuring 40 color plates. Unfortunately he died before the second volume was completed and only the first was ever published. The NSLM does not hold a copy of this work but we do have a wonderful collection of the illustrations by J. L. Petrie which were created for a planned deluxe subscription edition of The Fishes of North America that are Captured on Hook and Line. This set was sold under the title Portraits of Fishes in Natural Colors and included 38 color lithographs made from Petrie’s paintings of both fresh and salt water fishes.

Sales sheet included with the set of 38 color lithographs. The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The Fresh Water set: The Small-Mouth Black Bass — The Large-Mouth Black Bass — The American Brook Trout — The Unspotted Muscollonge — The Brown or German Trout — Winninish-Land-Locked Salmon — The Rocky Mountain Trout — The Michigan Grayling — The Rock Bass — The Eastern or Banded Pickerel — The Pike — The Common Sunfish — The Fresh Water Drum or Sheepshead — The White or Silver Bass — The Rocky Mountain Whitefish — The Montana Grayling — Hybrid Trout-cross of the Lake and Brook Trout — The Kern River Trout of California — The Common Bullhead or Horned Pout — The Mirror Carp — The Cisco of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin — The Sacramento Pike, Squaw’s Fish or Yellow Belly

Brown or German Trout. Specimen weight 1 lb. caught at Caledonia Creek, NY. The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.
The Common Bullhead or Horned Pout. Specimen weight 3/4 lb. caught at Greenwood Lake NY. The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The Salt Water set: The Striped Bass — The Weakfish or Squeteague — The Blackfish or Tautog — The Kingfish, Whiting or Barb — The Bluefish — The Spanish Mackerel — The Porgee or Scup — The Spot or Lafayette — The Dollar or Butter Fish — The Mangrove Snapper — The Striped Mullet — The Spotted Sea Trout — The Sea Bass — The Pompano — The Red Drum or Channel Bass — The California Redfish

The California Red Fish or Fat-Head. Specimen weight 3 lbs. caught and painted off Catalina Island, coast of California. The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.
The Pompano. Specimen weight 1 lb. caught and painted at Naples, Gulf of Mexico. The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The illustrations are lovely to look at but I enjoy imagining Harris and Petrie road-tripping around the country fishing and painting year after year during the late 19th century. It would be interesting to hear what it was like. Perhaps the NSLM will acquire a copy of The Fishes of North America that are Captured on Hook and Line in the future and maybe Harris put a small anecdote or two about their journeys in an introduction or afterword.


Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 450 years of the history of equestrian sport, fly fishing, wing shooting, other field sports, and country life.

Over the years readers of this blog have learned about objects in the collections, projects in the Library and Museum, and exhibitions on view in the Museum, through the points of view of the two librarians, Michelle Guzman and Erica Libhart, the curator Claudia Pfeiffer, and the collections manager, Lauren Kraut. This week I thought we’d change things up a bit and hear from some of the other members of NSLM’s staff. Each of them was asked what their normal day is like, how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their work, and what one of their favorite pieces is in the NSLM collections. I hope you enjoy getting to know more of the staff!

Valerie Peacock

Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator

I wear a couple of hats, not just the educator, so my normal workday includes me breaking up my day to work on multiple things. Most of my time is devoted to education which includes formal and informal educational activities. I spend time working with both the Library and Curatorial Departments on specific programs, exhibition interactives, school and adult aged programs, and activities that correlate with department projects. Other than education-specific items, I also work on the visitor experience with the management of the front-desks, the training of staff, and the online and in person gift shop. COVID-19 has greatly impacted my work and has made me think more critically on how to achieve my educational goals and visitor experience ideals without the interaction that we are accustomed to. I have had to cancel many programs, migrate programs to a virtual platform, change how visitors experience our campus, and develop alternative ways to provide in-gallery interaction while maintaining a safe environment.

The Cat from The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes by Edward Topsell (1607).  The gift of Thomas E. Marston

My favorite piece in the collection is in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room, The historie of foure-footed beastes. This book describes in amazing detail all the animals that the author at the time knew with four feet. I love this book because it contains some very inaccurate yet hilarious entries and images of well-known animals.

Jody West

Marketing Manager

A normal workday has me designing all kinds of graphics, managing the many advertising contracts and deliverables, while also evaluating new advertising opportunities, managing/processing the marketing invoices that are due, meeting with co-workers regarding their marketing needs for their departments, managing the many vendors we use to make sure the multitude of projects we have are being printed to the highest quality and on time, and this also includes finding new vendors for various print projects. On any given day I am juggling a multitude of design projects from big to small, some examples are the newsletter, annual report, exhibition catalogs, exhibition family guides, print ads, tv ads, web ads, invites, postcards, bookmarks, rack cards, annual appeals, blog reprints, large and small scale banners, signs, and all sorts of event graphics. For some of these projects the full design is more than just layout of the book or document, but also includes illustration as well. I am also responsible for photography, which can either mean I take the photos or I hire the photographer to take the photos, and meeting with the Middleburg Town HDRC Committee to get approval for large scale banners that hang on the side of our building. Most if not all of my job can be conducted remotely so Covid-19 did not have a huge impact on my job specifically other than the fact that when we were getting ready to open back up I was creating much more signage than I usually do.

Six-sided puzzle with hunting scenes, images by John Sanderson-Wells.  Late 19th early 20th century.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.  

My favorite piece in the Museum is the painting A Hare Hunting Scene by a follower of James Ross (British, fl. 1729-1738). I love the colors, his style of painting, and the vintage feel. In the Library, my favorite would have to be the small objects in the rare book room collection, including the horse teeth. I am a found object sculpture artist so those bits and pieces of three dimensional objects resonate with me the most, however, I am a big vintage book enthusiast, so pretty much anything and everything in the rare book room enthralls me. There is a large block puzzle that is spectacular, the peepshow books inspired me to purchase a vintage one of my own by the author/illustrator Edward Gorey, and of course the Teddy manuscript is also a favorite.  There are just too many favorites in this place!!

Lauren O’Neill

Development Associate and Manager of Grants and Foundations

I work as the Development Associate and Manager of Grants and Foundations here at the NSLM. My primary duty is to manage our membership database and communicate with all of our members and visitors about our membership program. I send snail mail, but also have a lot fun creating and sending our eBlasts, which highlight a different item in our collections and shine a spotlight on our upcoming programs. In addition to assisting with our large-scale events, I manage our social media channels, working with the team to create and schedule content. When we temporarily closed due to COVID-19, I began to focus much more on our digital reach and engagement. Our eBlasts were sent more frequently and I began to work closely with my colleagues to create a more robust social media program, focused on education rather than marketing. I also began to use my former background as a post-award grant accountant to apply to state and federal grant programs to help us through some of the financial difficulties brought to us by COVID-19. This task has recently become a permanent portion of my job description!

Ogden Minton Pleissner (American, 1905 – 1983)
Fisherman on the George Pool, 20th century
watercolor on paper, 18 x 28 inches
Gift from a Private Collection, 2020

My favorite piece changes often because we have so much in our collections! A member recently asked that I highlight Thelwell’s cartoons in a weekly eBlast and I have to say they are quite amusing. I also really enjoy our newly acquired Pleissner’s! His watercolors are extremely bold and vibrant.  

Reid O’Connor

Director of Development

My title is Director of Development. The fun part about my job is there is no such thing as a normal work day! My main responsibilities include overseeing annual giving and our membership program, and planning major events such as our Polo Classic fundraiser and Open Late summer concerts. My favorite part of my job is having the opportunity to interact with members and friends who are passionate about our mission on a daily basis! I am constantly learning new things and meeting new people. COVID-19 has certainly changed the way we do things as most of our work is usually done in-person. During the pandemic we have been unable to hold many of our larger events and programs, but instead have been doing many more personal tours as well as phone calls and Zoom meetings! We are very lucky to have such a supportive community of members here at the NSLM, which has been critical in helping us weather the challenges of these past months.

Herbert Haseltine (American, 1877-1962)
Ralla: Harry Payne Whitney’s Champion Polo Pony, No. 2, 1910
bronze on marble base, 21 ½ x 32 x 9 ⅝ inches
Purchased with funds donated by Jacqueline B. Mars, 2018.

My favorite work in our collection is the sculpture of Harry Payne Whitney’s famous polo pony Ralla by Herbert Haseltine. Ralla: Harry Payne Whitney’s Champion Polo Pony, No. 2 is an impressive third-scale bronze of the pony on whom Whitney won the 1909 Westchester Cup. Haseltine has done such a wonderful job of capturing her notoriously difficult personality, depicting her with fierce eyes and her ears pinned-back. He truly brings her to life – you feel that she could walk right off the pedestal! As someone who plays polo and loves horses, you can’t help but appreciate her competitive nature and imagine what she might have been like out on the field.


Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, fly fishing, wing shooting, other field sports, and country life.

If I were to call you a cartophile or cartophilist, it would mean you collect what?

  1. Maps
  2. Sugar packets
  3. Cigarette cards

The answer is C, although there is a name for those who collect sugar packets and that is sucrologist.

Recently added to the NSLM archives is a donation by Merri Ferrell of 73 vintage cigarette cards featuring racehorses, jockeys, and owners. Thirty-five Wills’s Cigarettes letterpress cards and 38 small photographic reproductions from King’s Cigarettes (“The Larger Cigarettes”!). Both sets are representative of their time and place.

We’re spoiled when it comes to “freebies” in our packaging, whether it’s a color-changing spoon in a cereal box or a ring in a box of Cracker Jack (“That’s nice to know…it gives one a feeling of solidarity, almost of continuity with the past, that sort of thing.”). This kind of giveaway (which, technically, you have paid for) establishes a loyalty between customer and company, “collect all five!” they tell us, encouraging us to keep coming back for more. It was this mindset that helped sustain the cigarette card trend for decades in the early-to-mid 20th century.

Where did it begin, though? In the late 19th century, a package of cigarettes could easily be crinkled and damaged. To solve this inconvenience, blank cards were inserted into the packs to help keep the shape thus salvaging the contents. A keen observer noted that it would be beneficial for all to include an advertisement on the card. From there, and as technology improved, it evolved from simple logos to images. Eventually, it would get more elaborate to include accompanying information on the back (or verso) of the card.

Wills’s Cigarette cards: Shalfleet on left and Scottish Union on right, both 1938. The back was full of great information. Gift of Merri Farrell, 2020

The major cigarette distributors created limited series focusing on a specific theme, and the range of themes was extensive, from flowers and musical instruments to royal families and branches of the military. Particularly interesting topics I came across included Strange Feminine Hairstyles and Animals in Fancy Costumes. If anyone has a picture of those, please pass it along.

The various series could have as few as six cards or as many as fifty. The buyer, or perhaps even other members of the buyer’s family, would commit to completing the entire set, forcing him or her to continue to purchase the product. He or she is then “rewarded” with a new card or, disappointingly, a duplicate, in which case, another pack needs to be bought.

Cigarette cards were so popular, people were not above breaking the law in order to get their hands on them. As one Scottish newspaper reported in 1923, six boys landed in court when they were caught breaking into shops via the skylight to steal the cards (but thoughtfully left the cigarettes).

As Ben Johnson wrote on the Historic UK website, in the early 20th century, “cigarette cards had established an almost fanatical following with thousands of different sets being issues by more than 300 cigarette manufacturers, all competing with each other to sell their products and establish brand loyalty.”[1]

World War I required the use of paper materials, which caused a temporary end to the fad. However, the interwar years proved to be the heyday of cigarette cards, Johnson referred to it as “the Golden Age of card collecting.” With the onset of World War II, production again came to a halt but this time, there was no resurgence. After the war, the major companies agreed to no longer include the popular token. Though this was the death of the cigarette card proper, there was an upswing in trading cards that were packaged with household goods. These were similar in nature to their predecessors, featuring athletes, but also included the futuristic subjects of the 1950s and 60s, like Out in Space.

From 1968, currently for sale on a UK Collectible website[2]

The cigarette cards now in the NSLM archives are a wonderful snapshot of the UK in the early 20th century. This series of Wills’s Cigarette cards shows steeplechase horses and jockeys from 1938.

When Mars Technical Librarian Erica Libhart first opened the package to show them to me, the first card greeting me was this one:

Battleship is near and dear to my heart having been a previous employee of James Madison’s Montpelier. Home of Marion duPont Scott and the Montpelier Hunt Races. I would recognize those baby blue and pink silks anywhere. The verso includes the name of the jockey “B. Hobbs” and a paragraph about their historic win at the Grand National. Battleship was the first American winner at the in 1938.

[Quick plug: see Battleship’s portrait with stallion manager Edward Washington in Thrill of the ‘Chace: Steeplechase in Art, opening September 9.]

Other notables in this set include Kellsboro Jack with D. Morgan up, an action shot of Portobello with P. Beasley up, and Bookseller with G. Richards up.

The second set is from King’s Cigarettes and are small pack-sized photographs. They include photos of known sporting enthusiasts, like King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England, and the Aga Khan.

Being photographs, these are able to show snapshots of racing scenes, like this one of Beachway in the foreground.

If you’d like to see these cards yourself, no need to break in any skylights. We’d rather you call the Library to make an appointment.


A variety of sources assisted with this article, as I am no cartophile. For more information on the history of cigarette card collecting, please visit the below site at Historic UK: https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Cigarette-Cards-Cartophily/#:~:text=by%20Ben%20Johnson,cards%20is%20known%20as%20Cartophily.

The book A History of Cigarette and Trade Cards by John Broom (2018) was immensely helpful.

[1] https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Cigarette-Cards-Cartophily/#:~:text=by%20Ben%20Johnson,cards%20is%20known%20as%20Cartophily.

[2] https://www.get-collectables.co.uk/collectable-cigarette-cards-set-science-zeppelin-space-rockets-flying-ship-5727-p.asp


Lauren Kraut is the Collections Manager at the National Sporting Library & Museum. Her primary focus is to maintain and preserve the works of art in the collection and on loan. Email her at lkraut@NationalSporting.org

Eugene Connett, III founded the Derrydale Press in 1927, a press devoted exclusively to sporting books.  Books published by Derrydale are eagerly sought after and are known not only for their beauty but for their sharp focus on sporting literature topics.  Today, a dedicated following of Derrydale Press enthusiasts collect books exclusively from this publisher.

Eugene Connett, III. Image from the American Museum of Fly Fishing.

Eugene Connett, 3rd was descended from an old New Jersey sporting family which owned one of the oldest men’s hat factories in the U.S.  A graduate of St. Paul’s School and Princeton University, Eugene Connett, worked for his family’s hat business for fourteen years.  During this time, Connett, an avid sportsman, was authoring several sporting articles that were published in magazines and newspapers like The American Angler, Field and Stream, The Sportsman, and that he also wrote his first book, Wing Shooting and Angling, which was published in 1922 by Charles Scribner’s Sons.

After graduating from Princeton, Connett sold the hat manufacturing business which had been in the family for over four generations and took some time off.

He wrote: “I took several months off and went fishing—I’ll get to the point in a minute!  During those happy days on various trout streams I made up my mind that I wanted to publish fine sporting books, but I knew I had to learn something about printing.  To make a long story somewhat shorter, I asked Johnston & Company, who had printed some catalogues for us in the hat business, if they would give me a job as a printing salesman.  With something less than enthusiasm on their part, I was allowed to sell printing for them.  After a reasonably successful, but extremely harrowing year at this fearful task, I felt ready to print fine books.  I did spend a great deal of time studying in the New York Public Library and the Morgan Library, and I did spend a summer fishing and studying in England.” (Siegel)

This start-up spirit is reflected in how the name was chosen. According to Connett, looking back at the press after he had closed it, the name Derrydale is “from a bottle of whiskey and a map of Ireland”.

At the onset, Connett advertised general printing services as part of his business portfolio, along with private publishing. He had not been able to gather enough sporting content to exclusively publish sporting literature.  His search for new authors led to Connett to “cut down his own hunting and fishing to two days a week, [I] has[d] resigned from all but three rod & gun clubs, one yacht club”.

Connett announced in 1928 that he would be taking over the famed New York City antiquarian bookseller—Ernest Gee’s—project of re-printing early American sporting books.  According to the most authoritative study of The Derrydale Press, “the shift of emphasis in his advertising was the fact that he had [finally] obtained enough manuscripts of sporting authors to be able to call himself a publisher of sporting books”. (Siegel)

Connett’s personal investment to his press is evident in how he managed the press. Eugene Connett oversaw the design, production, and marketing of the books.  There was no advisory board to guide and assist the choice of books issued by The Derrydale Press. “I have assumed this responsibility personally, because the objectives I had in view when I started the Press were so definite in my mind”. 

If you examine any one of the Derrydale books, you will notice that there are very few embellishments if any, on many of titles.  Any artwork on the covers and even within are limited and understated.  This is because Connett believed in the primacy of his content over any decoration.  He noted, “As my books were for people who would really read them, I felt that any decoration which attracted attention away from the text was unsound.”

The NSLM’s Collection of Derrydales

So, what makes a Derrydale a Derrydale?

Many authorities have opined about what makes a Derrydale a Derrydale. What I could discern in the literature some key characteristics:

  1. Original contributions to American sporting literature
  2. High production quality /technical execution of the print

While Derrydales are coveted for their production value, Connett himself believed that the purpose of the press was to “(1) to reprint the very scarce Early American books on sport which had become so rare that some of them would never be seen outside a few private collections; (2) to publish a series of hand-colored prints on rag paper which would give a true and permanent picture of contemporary sport in this country, and (3) to produce a group of books on contemporary American sport which, because of their beauty, would be preserved instead of discarded in time”. (Washington Post)

Connett sought to establish the legitimacy of American sporting literature through the reprinting of: Memoirs of the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club, The American Shooter’s Manual, The Sportsman’s Portfolio and The Sportsman’s Companion. The NSLM owns each of these titles.

Memoirs of the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club was originally published in 1830, but was so difficult to find by 1927, that Ernest Gee decided to have it privately printed. In the publisher’s note he stated, “The importance of this history of the earliest organized Foxhunting Club in America seems to me to be of so much interest that it should be preserved. I have… privately printed a small edition, so that the present-day sportsmen may have a record of the doings of their ancestors over one hundred years ago.” (375 printed)

The American Shooter’s Manual was originally published in 1827 and is one of the first practical books on Field Shooting to be published in America. (375 printed)

The Sportsman’s Portfolio was originally published in 1855, and according to Gee’s note in the preface, he had only been able to trace the existence of three copies, all located in private collections.  Gee described it as “the most profusely illustrated early sporting book published in America, as it contains twenty superb woodcuts delineating the various Field Sports practiced at that time… I hope that it will find some favour with the ever-growing band of Sportsmen who value the records of olden day sport in America”. (400 printed)

The Sportsman’s Companion was originally published in 1783. Copies of first through third editions were scarce, totaling six. Ernest Gee wrote, “The importance of this little book has not been realized, as so few people know if its existence”.  This book emphasizes one of the main missions of Derrydale, to produce fine-quality American sporting books. Gee wrote, “it is not an Americanized version of an English book but treats of American birds and American Shooting conditions as they have seldom been treated since.” (200 printed)

In addition to historical American sporting literature, Derrydale also wanted to publish the works of contemporary sporting authors. He was able to have some of the most highly-regarded sporting experts in their fields publish for the Derrydale Press. The NSLM owns the following titles:

Gordon Grand was the joint master of the Millbrook Hunt in New York.  He wrote some foxhunting stories for his children and friends, and at Connett’s suggestion, he compiled a few stories which would be published under the title, The Silver Horn in 1932

Harry Worcester Smith, another Derrydale author, the first American to be made a master of hounds in England, and all-around expert horseman, wrote about his foxhunting experiences in Life and Sport in Aiken.

A local, W.B. Streett, who hunted with the Warrenton hunt and was honorary whipper-in authored Gentleman Up (1930) and is the first book on Hunt Race Meetings ever published in America and features rare color plate illustrations by Paul Brown.

Many Derrydale titles were privately printed. The NSLM owns the following two titles below:

Gallant Fox: A Memoir.  This is one of the rarest Derrydales because it was a privately printed memoir limited to only 50 copies. Only five copies are known to have been recorded.  Gallant Fox dominated American racing in 1929 and 1930 and became the second horse to win the U.S. Triple Crown. This was written by his owner and written the year Gallant Fox retired to stud.  This was purchased with funds donated by: Mrs. Jacqueline B. Mars, Dr. Timothy J. Greenan, Mrs. Helen K. Groves, and Dr. Manuel H. Johnson.

The NSLM owns one of only 21 Cherished Portraits of Thoroughbred Horses. This is another book privately printed by Derrydale Press. William Woodward—owner of Gallant Fox—owned a collection of horse portraits and was interested in having a book made of the portraits. This is considered Connett’s “first major work in book production… [and] Connett’s most ambitious project”. (Siegel, 174)

One of the scarcest Derrydale items is the prospectus of The Southern Grasslands Hunt and Racing Foundation. The prospectus describes the proposed acquisition of a 28-square-mile tract along the Cumberland River in Tennessee for sporting purposes.  The creation of Tennessee Grasslands fulfills a vision going back to 1929 with the founding of the Southern Grasslands Hunt and Racing Foundation on the property, which included members of the Vanderbilt, Whitney and du Pont families, The Tennessean reported.

There is one item that never made it to press.  After studying the art and business of setting up a printing press, Connett set up a press in his own home, in his study.  His first press is a proof of the first page of Fysshynge Wyth an Angle.  The NSLM has a draft preface to work written by Connett.  He states, “There are two reasons why I have chosen to reprint The Treatise of Fysshynge with an Angle: first because it is one of the early books printed in the English language, and second because of my love for fishing.  The NSLM also has an estimate from B.F. Morrison for typesetting, and what makes this item unique is the fact that we also have Connett’s own copy of the first American edition which was published in 1875.  This treatise is the earliest book on fishing printed in English.

Over the course of the past few months, the pandemic has greatly altered almost every facet of our lives. From small changes in daily behavior to huge shifts in the nature of the workplace and school, few things have been left untouched – including events in the equestrian world. As part of my internship at the NSLM, I am currently conducting research on the specific impacts of COVID-19 on the equestrian and sporting communities in Middleburg, Virginia. Through my experience as a horse owner, a polo player, and an employee at a local tack shop, I have seen first-hand the unique ways in which the pandemic has affected our sport and many of its most time-honored traditions. My work is still in progress, but I am looking forward to sharing some of my findings in the near future.

For this post, however, I wanted to broaden the scope and take a look at how COVID-19 has impacted what is perhaps the nation’s most well-known equestrian event – the Run for the Roses. In doing so, I also stumbled into history and discovered how they still found a way to revel in the celebrated May event during World War 2. Oddly enough, it involves turtles.

A 145-year-old tradition, the Kentucky Derby has been held continuously since it was founded in 1875. This year will be no different, although the race has been postponed from its usual spot on the first weekend of May and rescheduled for the 5th of September.

Tiz The Law – The 2020 Kentucky Derby Favorite from
Horse Racing Nation

This change in the calendar produced unique issues for the event. The point system for evaluating Derby hopefuls had to be modified, with more qualifying races being added over the course of the summer. This allowed additional horses a chance to prove themselves worthy contestants well beyond the traditional cutoff. Additionally, trainers pointed out that horses would have been in their peak fitness condition by May and would need to take some time off before September to avoid injury and burnout. It is hard to stay in that physical condition for a long period of time, so training and racing schedules had to be adjusted (1).

Cancelling the event would cause a stir for many reasons. One is that only 3-year-old horses are allowed to participate in the race. If the event is called off, all the horses that were eligible to compete that year lose their one and only chance of winning. While the Derby has never been cancelled outright, a postponement is not unprecedented.

In 1945, Jimmy Byrnes, the Director of the War Mobilization Office, banned horse racing nationwide due to World War 2. He viewed it as a waste of national resources as it expended valuable gas and rubber to transport horses to and from the track. Furthermore, Byrnes did not want able-bodied men who could be serving in the military wasting their time working at the track or gambling (1).

People around the country were bitterly disappointed by the ban. So, in lieu of the Derby, a creative (if rather ridiculous) alternative was devised. A group of sports reporters and a representative from the Forty and Eight Legion were brainstorming ways to raise money for the Sports for Polio fund and came up with the Kentucky Turtle Derby (2).

News Article Detailing the first Kentucky Turtle Derby – Courier Journal

Attended by 6,500 spectators, the event was hosted at the Jefferson County Armory on May 5th. The turtles were given a chance to show off their stamina in eight 20-foot races over the course of the evening, and the races were called by professional sportscasters. The turtle that received the rose garland that night was Broken Spring – he completed the distance in an astounding one minute and 20 seconds! Perhaps the most exciting victory came when Journeyman Printer defeated his opponents in four minutes and 59 seconds after five of the seven turtles that previously held the lead turned back towards the starting gate. All the proceeds from the race (including some of the $11,483 placed in bets) went to children’s charities. (2)

Following the German surrender on May 7th, the actual Derby was quickly rescheduled for June 9th. Despite being a mere month after the end of the war, the wagers placed broke previous records and came in at a whopping $2,380,796. Hoop Jr. ridden by Eddie Arcaro took home the win (1).

A shot from the 1945 Derby – Twinspires

The inaugural Turtle Kentucky Derby (or Kenturtle Derby) was its only shining moment. Or was it? This year, due to the horse Derby’s postponement, the Turtle Derby was revived in all its glory! The race was held on May 2nd, and participants included Seattle Slow, Sir-Hides-A-Bunch, and Galapa-GO. The contestant What the Turtleneck? eventually emerged victorious – although two of the turtles never even made it out of the starting gate. Over the course of the race, the turtles reached astounding speeds of 0.25 miles per hour (3).

A shot from the 2020 Kentucky Turtle Derby – WDRB

While the pandemic has led to disappointment in the world of sports, the Kentucky Turtle Derby shows us a creative attempt at bringing joy to spectators while paying homage to a time-honored sporting contest. Over the next few weeks, I look forward to continuing to research and document how the pandemic has changed events, practices, and traditions in our local sporting and equestrian communities – including innovations like the one in this post. If you would like to participate in my project by giving a testimony about your experiences, please do not hesitate to reach out. Especially if it involves turtles!

Sources

Victoria Peace is the summer 2020 Curatorial Intern at the National Sporting Library and Museum. A rising junior at Georgetown University, she is double majoring in Art History and French. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her OTTB Taco, trail riding, and playing polo. Email her at museumintern@nationalsporting.org.