“By means of a good telescope, a very distinct view may be obtained of the moon,” reads one of many short pieces that made up the 1882 edition of The Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack. The Almanack had been in print for decades by 1882, tracing back into the 1850s as a dispensary of moral admonition and humorous stories. “With the highest power, however, yet employed, no trace of any inhabitants has been discovered,” the article continued. “Though any large towns must have been seen, did such exist on [the moon’s] visible side.”

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J. Gruber’s Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord 1856. National Sporting Library & Museum.

Despite the inevitable disappointment that the lack of habitations on the moon must have caused readers, almanacs were a staple of American popular literature in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Almanacs have been produced for centuries, dating back into the Middle Ages, with working theories on the earliest almanacs connecting them to Babylonian astronomers. Modern almanacs are known for conjecture on the weather, and for extensive handy reference charts. In the information age, the almanac is no longer a primary reference text, but the genre has continued on as a traditional publication. Poor Richard’s Almanack, produced by Benjamin Franklin, is a legendary title in the genre, and today’s most popular iteration is the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which has been faithfully produced since 1792.

The Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack was decorated by engravings that were recycled every year. The engravings depicted farm life throughout the year:

In the NSLM’s F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room we have several copies of minor almanacs (including The Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack from the 1850s to the mid-1880s and Richardson’s Almanac of Virginia and North Carolina from the 1860s) that give detailed insight into daily life for the era. The heart of the annual almanac was the provision of ready details and charts for the year. Generally, these charts covered the weather, important dates, phases of the moon and tides, or lists of government representatives. The other articles maintained the interest of the reader, and were usually humorous stories or practical advice:

A Fast Frigate.
Dave Constable says there is one advantage about old-fashioned frigates. They drag so much dead water behind, that if a man falls overboard on Monday, you need not stop till Friday, to pick him up again.

The Hagerston Town and Country Almanack, 1856

The Library’s copies of Richardson’s Almanac of Virginia and North Carolina offer a very different tone. These copies were printed during the Civil War, and list facts and information on the government and daily life in the Confederacy, such as postage rates:

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Rates of Postage, Richardson’s Almanac of Virginia and North Carolina, 1864.

The 1864 edition contains no humorous articles and reflects in its offerings the somber trials in war-torn Virginia. Articles include instructions for how to prevent flies from wounds, how to make three dishes from a single beet plant, advice for crafting makeshift lamps from common animal grease, and directions for making shoes from squirrel skins tacked to plain boards. By the 1875 edition, Richardson’s Almanac had reintroduced humorous stories to begin the publication, and the recipes that hinted at the war’s impact had disappeared from from the publication.


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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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

“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

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.

Rare Book Room 1
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.
Rare Book Room 2
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

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Xenophon Marmorbüste im Kgl. Museum, Berlin, 1905. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Some things just never change. The visitors to our Museum who ride horses are often impressed how timeless is the wisdom in the equestrian literature of years past: advice given 200 years ago is usually as pertinent to handling horses today as it was when it was written. Equestrian literature is extremely traditional, and most are unaware how far back the chain runs. When it comes to the written word, what we know and practice today truly began with the Greek soldier, historian, and philosopher Xenophon.

Xenophon of Athens (c. 430-354 BCE) was born to a wealthy Athenian family and served as a mercenary cavalry officer under Cyrus the Younger during his campaign against the Persians. After a complicated series of military misadventures, Xenophon and his fellow mercenaries were recruited to fight for Sparta, the enemies of Athens.

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Plate 8-I, from Richard Berenger’s translation of Xenophon, The History and Art of Horsemanship (1771). National Sporting Library & Museum.

“The same care which is given to the horse’s food and exercise, to make his body grow strong, should also be devoted to keeping his feet in condition. Even naturally sound hoofs get spoiled in stalls with moist, smooth floors.”

 

For this (and possibly for his admiration of Socrates) Xenophon was exiled from Athens and settled into a life of writing in Scillus. It was here that Xenophon penned his treatise On Horsemanship, widely credited as one of the earliest works on the selection, care, and management of horses.

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Plate 4, from Richard Berenger’s translation of Xenophon, The History and Art of Horsemanship (1771). National Sporting Library & Museum.

The earliest printing of Xenophon appears to have been around 1516. On Horsemanship was widely re-popularized during the Renaissance with the explosion of equestrian literature from the mid-1500s forward.

“If you desire to handle a good war-horse so as to make his action the more magnificent and striking, you must refrain from pulling at his mouth with the bit as well as from spurring and whipping him.” — Xenophon, On Horsemanship Morris Morgan translation, 1893.

By the 1580s, authors were debating fine points of the precepts laid down by Xenophon. On Horsemanship was translated into English by Richard Berenger in 1771.

“[I]t is evident that by word of mouth you can teach a horse nothing. If, however, you reward him with kindness after he has done as you wish, and punish him when he disobeys, he will be most likely to learn to obey as he ought.” — Xenophon, On Horsemanship Morris Morgan translation, 1893.

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Left: Greek (Cretan), Fragment from Pithos or Relief Amphora, ca. 660-630 BCE, terracotta, Tampa Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William Knight Zewadski in honor of Dr. J. Michael Padgett, Curator of Classical Art, 1990-1992. (1991.023.001). Photo Credit: Courtesy Tampa Museum of Art Right: Plate 5-I from Richard Berenger’s translation of Xenophon, The History and Art of Horsemanship (1771). National Sporting Library & Museum.

“When the horse bolts suddenly off, the rider should lean forward, for then the horse would be less likely to draw in under the rider and jolt him up; but he should bend back when the horse is being brought to a poise, as he would then be less jolted.”

On view in the Museum right now is The Horse in Ancient Greek Art, an exhibition of Greek pottery depicting horses from the time of Xenophon and beyond. Visitors to the Museum can experience the unbroken chain from the ancient world to today by visiting this great exhibition and our permanent collection works on view.


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

One of the valuable research resources at NSLM is The Thoroughbred Record, a major periodical of record for the horse racing world. NSLM holds issues of The Thoroughbred Record dating back to 1895, and each issue tells some story from the history of racing.

In January of 1896, the American champion money winning racehorse retired. Domino, “The Black Whirlwind,” was being put out to stud by his owner, Foxhall Keene (1867-1941). Domino had been bred by Keene’s father, James R. Keene (1838-1913). Foxhall bought the yearling Domino from his father for $3,000 and the stallion went on a three-year tear through United States racing.

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Portrait of James Robert Keene, 1901, from The World’s Work. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Domino was a sprinter, benefiting from the development away from timed heats in American racing. With less emphasis on stamina and more on outright speed, Domino won (among others) the Belmont Futurity, the Belmont Stakes, and the Great American Stakes.

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Foxhall P. Keene, 1909. Keene was a successful racehorse owner and breeder, and a World and Olympic Gold Medallist in polo. He purchased Domino from his father, James Keene, in 1892 for $3,000. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

During Domino’s two-year-old campaign in 1893, he split his hoof and never completely recovered, often racing in bandages. Consistent injuries to his feet interrupted his training following his 1895 campaign, and in early 1896, he was retired to Castleton Stud with career earnings of over $190,000.

It has also not been decided whether Domino will ever return to the turf; he probably will not, though “Billy” Lakeland, his trainer, during his visit here this week, stated that he was absolutely sound — that is, as sound as he has ever been since he split his hoof during his two-year-old campaign. This foot has always been under suspicion since, and to it more than to any other cause is attributed the comparative failure of his subsequent form compared with his wonderful two-year-old record.
–The Thoroughbred Record, January 25, 1896.

The following month, Domino arrived in Lexington to overwhelming acclaim. Huge crowds of onlookers, upon hearing about Domino’s arrival, swarmed the stable where he was being kept. So great was the demand to see “the great black” horse that Domino’s handlers spent an entire day parading him for onlookers. The Thoroughbred Record of February 8, 1896, describes the horse’s appearance for its national readership.

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Domino’s general appearance seems to have been a bit of a letdown. Apparently, eastern newspapers played up Domino as a dashing figure, a myth dispelled upon his arrival in Kentucky. Nevertheless, The Thoroughbred Record admits his many other anatomical advantages as a racer, and he is named “beautifully balanced” and “perfectly sound,” except for his nagging feet injuries.

Domino produced 20 foals before succumbing to spinal meningitis in July 1897. Of those 20 foals, eight became stakes winners and his most famous descendants include War Admiral, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Gallant Fox, Omaha, Native Dancer and American Pharoah.

Domino was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1955.


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

Here in Virginia, we’re excited at the approach of a total solar eclipse which will occur in North America on August 21. While everybody is preparing to view this event, we were also reminded of another solar eclipse that left a major mark on the equestrian world.

On April 1, 1764, a solar eclipse occurred in Europe, with the maximum effect best seen in southeastern England and northern France. Viewing conditions were not ideal in London, leading observers to travel to Edinburgh to avoid cloud cover and get the best view. The eclipse began at 9:09 a.m., and continued until 11:53 a.m. Maximum obscuration was reported at 10:24 a.m. During the eclipse, the most valuable and influential horse in history was foaled.

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Daniel Quigley (Irish, 18th Century) The Godolphin Arabian, late 18th Century, oil on canvas, 38 x 48 inches, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. This piece was view at NSLM as part of The Chronicle of the Horse in Art.

The horse, who was named Eclipse for his foaling day, was bred by Prince William, Duke of Cumberland (1721-1765) and son of George II. Eclipse’s dam, Spilletta, was a granddaughter of the Godolphin Arabian, a foundational sire of the Thoroughbred breed.

Eclipse was headstrong and temperamental, and the chestnut stallion was renowned for his temper. We was worked constantly to tire him out, and the exercise made him easier to handle. Eclipse was large (sometimes criticized for having a big, unattractive head), and had great endurance for an era where horse racing was done in heats of two and four miles.

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Eclipse At New Market With Groom, by George Stubbs (1724-1806). Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

The racing career of Eclipse is remarkable, as the horse went undefeated in 18 races over two years. His jockey, Jack Oakley, habitually let Eclipse run as he pleased, and made few attempts to hold him back. After Eclipse’s second victory, he was purchased by Dennis O’Kelly (1725-1787), an adroit horse breeder and bettor who was renowned for winning a bet that placed “Eclipse first, the rest nowhere,” meaning no other horse would finish within 240 yards of Eclipse.

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Illustration of geometric measurements of Eclipse by Charles Vial de Sanibel. From Essai sur les proportions Geometrales de l’Eclipse, 1791, National Sporting Library & Museum.

After two unbeaten campaigns, Eclipse was retired in large part because of a lack of challengers. It was impossible to find better odds against him than 20 to 1, and his value now resided at stud. His stud fee began at 50 guineas, and he went on to become the most successful sire in history, siring 344 winners of more than 158,000 pounds. It’s far easier to list Thoroughbreds that don’t count Eclipse in their background than those that do. It’s estimated that over 95% of Thoroughbreds can trace their pedigrees to Eclipse in the male line.

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Skeleton of Eclipse. Photo number L0000443, Wellcome Library. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Eclipse died on February 27, 1789 of a violent colic. Dennis O’Kelly’s nephew Andrew contracted famous veterinary surgeon Charles Vial de Sanibel (1753-1793) to dissect the body. Sanibel wrote a book on Eclipse from his anatomical findings, measuring the horse in geometric relation to the size of his head in order to establish ideal proportions for representation in artwork and selection of animals for breeding. His skeleton is now housed at the Royal Veterinary College in Hertfordshire.


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