In 1726, an elderly woman known to history as Janet Horne was paraded through the Scottish town of Dornoch, covered in tar, and burned for being a witch. Janet Horne was a generic placeholder name in Scotland for witches during the period, and this Janet Horne holds the distinction of being the last person executed for witchcraft in the British Isles. One of the curious things about the case was the nature of the accusations against Horne involved her daughter, who had deformed hands and feet. The townspeople accused Horne of having turned her daughter into a pony and ridden her to the Devil to have her shod. Though the daughter escaped the mob, Horne (who by most accounts was elderly and showing signs of senility) was caught and killed.

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Verbrennung auf dem Scheiterhaufen. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

While casting about for an appropriately Halloween-themed blog post, I found a bevy of information about the connections between witches and horses. Accusations that purveyors of the dark arts were connected to horses abound — even into the 21st Century. A story reported in Blockula, Sweden in 1699 asserted that an army of witches had been accosting men in their sleep, putting an enchanted halter over their heads to turn them into horses. And in another case from Scotland, a woman named Margaret Grant claimed to have been turned into a pony by “evil-disposed persons” and forced to ride great distances.

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Two witches smoking their pipes by the fire with a toad at their feet. From The History of Witches and Wizards (1720), Wellcome Library. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

In addition to these stories is a recurring, mixed account of the ghostly Nightmare, also called the Night Hag. As far back as the Renaissance, horse owners have reported visits of the Nightmare to their horses. Signs in the morning include the horse covered in sweat, exhausted, and a tangled mane, sometimes described as plaited by supernatural means. The phenomenon has been attributed to witches and pixies (who, being obsessed with mortal horses, steal them to ride at night), and in recent years, to Bigfoot or occult-obsessed horse thieves. So pervasive was the concern over the nightmare that Thomas Blundeville, in his 1564 book The Fower Chiefest Offices Belonging to Horsemanship, included an incantation (and directions for hanging naturally-perforated stones in the stable) to ward against the Nightmare. The incantation was touted by Blundeville as a practical way for horse owners to avoid having to pay a “false Fryer” to produce the warding spell.

The primary sign of the Nightmare is the fairy plaits in the mane. Although skeptics claim that a horse’s mane can easily become tangled on its own under correct atmospheric conditions, elaborate tales of unauthorized braiding have been reported.

“It was very generally accepted as an indisputable fact at that time that not only witches, but also certain malignant sprites who lived in the woodland gardens, occasionally assumed the forms of women clad in white raiment, who in this guise would haunt the stables when night fell. They carried with them tapers of lighted wax, and they used the drippings from these to tangle the horses’ manes into inextricable knots, to the great annoyance both of the steeds and of their grooms.”

The Horse in Magic and Myth, M. Oldfield Howley, National Sporting Library & Museum

The tying of knots as a spell is an ancient theory of witchcraft. It’s not a huge leap from fairy plaits to the Witch’s Ladder, a layered cord of knots, each with a separate intention of spell. Theories of various malevolent hexes were floated in the late 19th Century, a common one being that the Witch’s Ladder contained a death spell that could only be undone by finding and untying the cord.

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Witch’s Ladder, from The Folk-Lore Journal Volume 5 (1888). University of Toronto. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

How do we interpret these reports of Nightmare and tangled manes? It could be that in an era where many more people were adept at handling horses, the propensity to “borrow” a turned-out horse for a nighttime ride was a more common practice. A sweaty, exhausted horse from such an exercise might have a tangled mane where an unauthorized rider held on to the steed. Or maybe there’s more to it: pixies, witches, or Bigfoot.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

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“Help! Help! There’s a panther in monsieur’s bedroom!”

The shouts and cries, accompanied by the frenzied barking of dogs, carried across the gardens of Maqbara e Humayun (Humayun’s Mausoleum) where two European gentlemen were staying. The frenzy interrupted the evening reverie of both gentlemen, who had just settled into the peaceful enjoyment of drinks and cigars. The gentlemen were Louis Rousselet (1845-1929) of France and Jules Henri Jean Schaumberg (1839-1886) of Belgium.

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Louis Rousselet (right) with Jules Henri Jean Schaumburg (in Indian attire), 1867. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Rousselet was renowned for his travels to India from 1864 to 1868. An anthorpologist and archaeologist, Rousselet was an early pioneer of darkroom photography, and his ability to document his extensive travels in central India made him an ideal candidate to project an exotic romance on a country that had come under British dominion in 1858. Writing extensively of his travels and adventures, Rousselet’s 600 photographs of the journey were transferred into engravings to illustrate his accounts for the French travel magazine, Le Tour du Monde. Rousselet’s notes, drawings, and photographs were compiled into a massive, luxurious tome entitled L’Inde des Rajas (1875) which would enjoy wide success and translation into English under the title India and Its Native Princes.

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“The Start of the Hunt, Govindgarii.” Rousselet recounts a tiger hunt from elephant back during his travels. From India and Its Native Princes, (1875) National Sporting Library & Museum, gift of Mimi Abel Smith.

Rousselet met Schaumberg, and artist, in Bombay in 1865 and the two would become fast friends and travelling companions for the next three years. Together, the gentlemen traveled across India and experienced the finest art, culture, and architecture available. They hunted tigers from the backs of elephants, visited historical sites, and learned the history and customs that would all end as fodder for Rousselet’s book.

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“Humayun’s Mausoleum,” from from India and Its Native Princes, (1875) National Sporting Library & Museum, gift of Mimi Abel Smith.

At Humayun’s Masoleum in the plain of Delhi, the travelers were afforded lodging in the form of a makeshift bungalow in one of the garden kiosks. They toured the magnificent structure, commissioned for the Emperor Humayun (1508–1556) by his widow, Empress Bega Begum (1511-1582). Humayun died from a fall in his library, loaded down with books, attempting to kneel in reverence to the Muslim call to prayer. Bega Begum spent years constructing the most impressive mausoleum in the Mughal Empire.

As the European travelers were relaxing following a dinner served by their servants, the crying of distress about a panther in the bungalow roused them, and they rushed to see what the trouble was. The dogs barked madly at the entrance to Rousselet’s bedroom, and the servants held their distance, afraid of the “panther.” Rousselet took cloths dipped in oil on a stick to create a makeshift torch, and threw them into the bedroom, revealing a creature crouching “almost under the bed.”

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“A Tiger Hunt, Rewah”, from India and Its Native Princes, (1875) National Sporting Library & Museum, gift of Mimi Abel Smith.

It turned out to be a hyena. A pistol was retrieved from a nearby table, and was shot by Rousselet before being dispatched by servants bearing spears and clubs. Amused by the juxtaposition of the panther and a timid hyena, the Europeans laughed off the episode as a ludicrous “hunt in the bedroom.” It would prove to be one of many adventures on the trip,  including the “torture” of traveling in the “mail cart,” a horse-drawn chariot that drove a break-neck speeds along roads in the mountainous Indian countryside.

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“The Mail Cart,” from India and Its Native Princes, (1875) National Sporting Library & Museum, gift of Mimi Abel Smith. The European visitors were deeply uncomfortable to hitch a ride on the mail chariot.

In the end, Rousselet and Schaumberg parted in September 1868, when Rousselet returned to France. What had been intended as a six month journey had extended more than four years, and Schaumberg, who would go on to be appointed artist to The Geological Survey of India in Calcutta, stayed behind to attend to his business.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

Gamekeepers are employed by land owners to ensure there is enough game or fish for the owner’s sport. People in this occupation use an intense knowledge of the land and of wildlife to create habitats best suited to the game they hope to cultivate.

The Gamekeeper by Richard Ansdell (Wikimedia Commons)

Activities include, building coverts, planting food sources, breeding birds, and eliminating predators.  Although the focus of such efforts is game and game birds, other wildlife in the area often benefits was well.

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Training setters.  Victorian and Edwardian Field Sports from Old Photographs, by J.N.P. Watson (1978). National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of Mrs. Jacqueline B. Mars.

Gamekeepers also organize the hunts. Not only do they guide hunters and stalkers to the best spots and provide game law information, they are also involved with the tools of the hunt. They rear and train hunting dogs, flush game, and collect and document the bag of the hunt.

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Keepers bring in some of the bag.  The Big Shots: Edwardian Shooting Parties, by Jonathan Garnier Ruffer (1977).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

This is an old profession, probably it’s been around ever since individual people owned large swaths of land.  In Medieval times gamekeepers were royal appointments and tended to focus mostly on protecting deer and wild boar as these were favorite royal game animals. Traditionally gamekeeping is a male occupation, however in his book, The Big Shots: Edwardian Shooting Parties, Jonathan Garnier Ruffer describes the exploits of at least one early female gamekeeper.

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Female gamekeeper.  The Big Shots: Edwardian Shooting Parties, by Jonathan Garnier Ruffer (1977).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

In the 1820s Polly Fishbourne was the gamekeeper at Holkham estate. She had a reputation for ferocity and so was fortunate to find herself in a profession that offered a ready target for her aggression – she was the bane of the local poachers. Women also make appearances as gamekeepers during World War I, often filling in for their husbands.

The Library’s resources on gamekeeping are focused on Great Britain from the very late 18th century through the 20th century.  Some books are essentially gamekeeping text books such as, The Gamekeeper’s Note Book, by Owen Jones and Marcus Woodward (1910). This book gives a detailed description of the keeper’s daily activities over the course of the year.

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The Gamekeeper’s Note Book, by Owen Jones and Marcus Woodward (1910).

Other books give a more general overview of the lifestyle and tasks of the gamekeeper.  For example, The Gamekeeper at Home by Richard Jefferies (first published in 1879) not only talks about the gamekeeper’s techniques and work, but also describes his living conditions, and the likely occupations of his wife.

For me, the most interesting books by far are the autobiographies written by the gamekeepers themselves. These colorful accounts of how the authors came to be gamekeepers and of the adventures they had during their careers are quite entertaining.

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Gamekeeper, John Wilkins.  The Autobiography of an English Gamekeeper, by John Wilkins (1892).

A good example is this excerpt from The Autobiography of an English Gamekeeper, by John Wilkins (1892), in which he describes tricking a known poacher into stealing a clutch of rotten eggs, and the encounter that follows…

“”Good morning, John,” says Harry, as soon as he sees me.  “Good morning, Harry,” says I, politely. “I was just remarking,” says Harry, “What a pity it is to cut down such nice, young oak timber, just growing into money.” Whereat his two companions burst out laughing, thinking, no doubt, how nicely he was smoothing me over. “You seem amused, my dear,” he went on, pleasantly, addressing the maid, who had a nest full of eggs in her hands. “She is so fond of bird’s eggs, John.”  This to me, of course. They all laughed again at this, and I, nothing loth, joined in. When I thought that they had laughed enough, at my expense, I stepped up to Harry, who was still on the grin, and said: — “Yes, and so are you fond of bird’s eggs, aren’t you?”  In a moment his countenance changed, and the grin grew ghastly, as he angrily asked what I meant. “I mean,” said I, “That pocketful of pheasant’s eggs you took from that clump of briars up yonder.” And before he knew what I was up to, I struck his pockets with the flat of my hand, and smash went the rotten egg!

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The Autobiography of an English Gamekeeper, by John Wilkins (1892).

At this he began cursing and swearing, but I merely remarked: — “Good morning, Harry.” Then, turning to the other two, I observed :– “you won’t be so fast to laugh at John Wilkins another time, perhaps.” Thereupon I left them, I indulging in a little mirth on my own account, but you should have seen the change that came over their countenances!”  (Autobiography of an English Gamekeeper, p. 112-113)

Interestingly, in addition to the books on gamekeeping, the Library has quite a few about poachers and poaching.

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A selection of books about poachers and poaching.

They tend to fall into categories similar to those on gamekeeping. Topics include the various tools and techniques of the poacher, specific guides for capturing various types of animals, general woodcraft advice, and techniques for avoiding gamekeepers and the law. The personal accounts of poachers are even more colorful than those of the their opponents, the gamekeepers.

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The Gamekeeper at Home by Richard Jefferies (first published in 1879, this edition 1973) National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The fascinating thing about the tales of ‘gamekeeper vs. poacher’ is how they’re told with a sense of nostalgia by gamekeepers and poachers alike. Despite the injuries sustained on both sides in these conflicts, and the often stiff penalties incurred by the poachers, including fines, prison, and transportation, the participants describe these events with pride.

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The Poacher’s Companion by E. G. Walsh (1982). National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The stories I read were all by retired old men. Perhaps, the distance of time smooths off the rough bits and they are just reliving the glories of youth. They put me in mind of the old Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf cartoons.

Gamekeeping continues today. While the job has evolved over time, many techniques remain the same. Today there are formal training programs at colleges, and professional  gamekeeping organizations. To see what is involved check out The Scottish Gamekeepers or National Gamekeepers.

To learn more about gamekeepers, poachers, wildlife conservation, shooting, and hunting, come see me in the Main Reading Room and I’ll be happy to get you started.


 

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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, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail

Last month, we cracked open an ambitious project in the Library: the complete reprocessing and recataloging of everything stored in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room. The project will likely last a year and is very challenging as we will be fully describing every object in our rare book collections, many of them in archaic languages.

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Like our Main Reading Room, many objects in the Rare Book Room are not cataloged, and most need to be stored to make more efficient use of space.
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As each collection is cataloged and reprocessed, acid-free index cards with barcodes and call numbers are inserted. Everything will now be findable in the NSLM’s library catalog, and to researchers using the OCLC’s WorldCat system.
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We started with the most challenging materials, building a dedicated section for “folio” items: those which are too large to be shelved with the regular “oversized” books.
Rare Book Room 4
Shelving was cleared and removed for repairs and re-anchoring of wall units. It was a great opportunity for our facilities staff to perform stabilization and repairs.

 

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With repairs and maintenance complete, the entire room was painted for an updated look.

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We’ll be updating our members as we continue work on this exciting project. We’re already cataloging quite a few treasures from our rare collections that will now be easier to find and access.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

Many studies and papers have been written about how arts education helps students become more successful. In fact, The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities suggests that child arts education can result in better academic performance and social engagement over a long term period, perhaps with life-long benefits. As the Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator, one of my main duties this fall is to make sure that all public, private, home school and post-secondary students have an opportunity to experience art, especially in our feature exhibition, The Horse in Ancient Greek Art.

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Attributed to the Sappho Painter [Cahn], Greek (Attic), Black-Figure White Ground Lekythos, ca. 510 BCE, Quadriga chariot horses being harnessed, terracotta, Private Collection.
It can be difficult for students to relate an ancient vase to their every day lives. Some of these objects spent hundreds of years underground, and the people who made them aren’t on SnapChat. But I have discovered some human connections between modern Americans and ancient Greeks that the students have really enjoyed.

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Attributed to the Workshop of Hermogenes [Heesen], Greek (Attic) Band Cup, ca. 540 BCE, Achilles, Troilus on horseback, and Polyxena, terracotta, Private Collection.
1. They drank out of bowls. The variety of vase shapes used in ancient times can be overwhelming at first. How could each be used differently? And why didn’t Ancient Greeks drink out of cups like normal people? They actually drank out of shallow bowls called kylikes. Drinking out of a kylix sounds strange at first, but just about every kid eats breakfast cereal and then slurps the leftover milk straight from the bowl.

2. They spruced up on the go. Ancient Greeks did not have silky bubble baths and showers like we think of today, instead they used oil to clean off a sweaty body after exercising at the gymnasium. Not many middle school students roam the halls with an arybollos of perfume or oil tied to their belt, but they understand needing deodorant or body spray after gym class. At least, we hope they do.

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Greek (Corinth), Stater, ca. 340 BCE, Obv: Pegasos, silver, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Fund (63.13.3)

3. They are inspired by impossible, magical things. Some of the most engaging pieces of art in the exhibition are those that show mythological creatures. There’s something inherently heroic about a gleaming silver pegasos, something curious and powerful about a centaur crouched, ready to leap across the lip of a bowl. Amid historic recounts of Greco-Prussian wars or horse races, the mythological figures hold a child’s gaze the longest. Children understand the draw of fantastic dishware. ‘I have Power Rangers spoons’ says one student, ‘I have a Minions cup’, ‘I have a whole Frozen tea-party set’, they can relate to these characters.

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Students practice making connections across history.

What is so special about their character dishes at home? On the last tour, one little girl recounted a story about how her favorite fictional character came to be. She paused, struggling to convey what it is about the supernatural, mythical, magical world that pulls her in so.

“I just love it”, she sighed. She was telling me about her favorite cup at home, but her eyes are still glued to the pegasos. 


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Anne Marie Barnes is the Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM). Her passion for museum work began shortly after graduation with a Bachelor’s degree in History from James Madison University. Between her expeience working at the Fredericksburg Area Museum & Cultural Center and the Washington Heritage Museums, she has done everything from designing summer camps to formulating major fundraisers. Have a question? Contact Anne Marie by e-mail