Reference Question: Who is this rider?

A couple of months back, I received an in-print reference question. That wasn’t nearly as remarkable as the fact that the reference question had been submitted to one of our Museum curators instead of the Librarian. This person wanted to know who a rider was in a photograph she had found online. Apparently, somebody had blogged about NSLM and this photograph was listed as being in our collections.

Who is this rider? The intrepid George L. Ohrstrom, Jr Librarian was on the case!
Who is this rider? The intrepid George L. Ohrstrom, Jr Librarian was on the case!

So this question was very layered. The first thing to find out was, does NSLM really have this photo. If so, where? We have dozens of Archival Collections with photographs, but the individual photographs are not tagged and being given an image without a citation is not unlike the proverbial needle in the haystack. In this case, I had a very valuable clue built into the request: the photo was somewhere out on the internet someplace.

Some judicious Google usage landed me a 2009 blog post that gave a broad citation, but a very workable one: “the Gerald Webb papers.” NSLM has an Archival Collection called the Gerald B. Webb, Jr. Photograph Albums, 1935-1961. The trail was heating up. Unfortunately for me, the photographs were mostly pasted or tipped in to some very large scrapbooks. Not exactly albums, but again, workable. What followed was a lot of tedious searching by hand, until I landed the photo, and a hand-written label.

The mystery revealed... partly.
Margaret “Peg” Cotter. The mystery revealed… partly.

This was great, but I kind of wanted a little more. Who was Margaret Cotter? And Rocksie? Back to the internet!

Once I had names, Google was my best friend. The Baltimore Sun yielded photos from their back file of Ms. Cotter and Rocksie, a big bay hunter. The second photo, an action shot similar to Mr. Webb’s, is dated 1938.

Another resource I tapped later was Newspapers.com, which is a subscription service which allows a free seven-day trial. I found an article in The Lethbridge Herald (Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada) from Tuesday, September 16, 1941. Another paper ran it citing Lucrece Hudgins of the Associated Press as the author.

“At a recent horse show in Virginia, a girl and horse leaped six feet six inches into the air an, for the third time, set a new American record for women jumpers.”

It’s impossible for me to say for certain which show was in the photograph Gerald Webb, Jr. took and which is now in NSLM’s Archival Collections. The article above relates the story of Ms. Cotter’s and Rocksie’s breakthrough success in 1938:

I believe this photo must be from sometime between 1938 and 1941. That looks an awful lot like six feet in the photo. It’s very possible this is the first record-breaking moment in 1938… but I can’t say so definitively. Nevertheless, Ms. Cotter seems to have been a phenomenal athlete and equestrian (to say nothing of Rocksie’s athletic abilities!). It’s gratifying to have had the opportunity to discover a little bit about her.

Do you have a reference question you’d like help with? Contact me with your requests!

John Connolly
George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian

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