by Stephanie Polukis, Writer
The books of Marguerite Henry have captivated generations of children, but one book in particular has made every young girl who is prone to daydreaming—myself included—want to ride a horse, lease a horse, own a horse, or be a horse. That book is Misty of Chincoteague.
A beautiful island with sandy strands and wild ponies running free sounds like a paradise, and an imagined one, at that. Chincoteague, however, is anything but fantastic: The small island town is located a few miles off
I was fortunate enough to take a few days off of work this month and spend some time on the island, one of my favorite vacation spots for obvious reasons: I’m an enormous Marguerite Henry fan, having read seven of her books in one summer; I’m an avid equestrian and horse lover; and I can’t drive past a horse without screaming “horsey” at the top of my lungs.
Most importantly, however, the link between the island and one of my favorite books is still as strong as it was when I first visited Chincoteague at six years old. In my opinion, the work of a good children’s book is one that has as much of a hold on you as an adult as it did when you were drinking Juicy Juice and playing kickball. Fortuitously, Annie asked me to write a blog article while I was on vacation, so I did a little bit of research on Marguerite Henry,
Marguerite Henry was born to Louis and Anna Breithaupt of
A love of books was engrained in Henry at a young age, as her father worked for a publishing company and encouraged his children to read. He once told Henry of a person who read every single book in their local library, and greatly inspired, she vowed to do the same. She became an ardent reader and particularly fell in love with novels by Zane Grey. Grey’s westerns gave Henry a love for horses and all other animals, and she dreamed that one day she would have a farm of her own.
One of the most memorable experiences of Henry’s childhood came when she was seven years old and her father bought her a writing desk for Christmas. She promptly began writing stories, almost all of which were about animals. At age eleven, she wrote a story called “Hide-and-Seek in Autumn Leaves,” a tale of a collie and a group of children, that she sold to a magazine for twelve dollars. It was her very first published work.
Henry recovered enough from her illness to graduate from
During her career as a writer, Henry wrote fifty-eight books and short stories, some of the most famous being Justin Morgan Had a Horse, which received a Newberry honor; King of the Wind, a Newberry medal winner; Brighty of the Grand Canyon; Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West; and, of course, Misty of Chincoteague.
Marguerite Henry passed away in 1997 at the age of ninety-five. She lives on through her writing, and continues to influence today’s dreamy youth to appreciate the majesty and wonder of horses and the animal kingdom.
Chincoteague, an island in
The most interesting element of the island is its herd of wild ponies, which reside primarily on Chincoteague’s sister island, Assateague. The ponies range in size from 13.2 to 14.2 hands and are a variety of colors, but are most commonly pinto. According to legend, a Spanish galleon carrying mustangs wrecked off the coast of
While it is possible that today’s Chincoteague ponies are the descendents of Spanish mustangs, it is more probable that they are descended from the domestic horses that the original families brought with them to their farms. At the time, the government taxed farmers on their fenced livestock, and it was common for people to set their animals loose so they would go unaccounted for. A few horses may have run away and established wild herd, and over three centuries, developed into today’s Chincoteague pony.
Starting in the 1700s, Chincoteague locals herded the wild ponies on Assateague and drove them to Chincoteague, where the town auctioned off new foals to farmers. This event evolved into the island’s annual Pony Swim.
On the last Wednesday in July, members of Chincoteague’s Volunteer Fire Company, also called the “salt water cowboys,” round up the wild ponies on Assateague. The ponies then swim across the narrow channel between the islands and are driven to the auction center off
In 1946, Marguerite Henry visited
Henry fell in love with Misty and wanted to purchase her from the family, but Clarence Beebe knew how much the children loved the foal and refused to sell her. Eventually, an agreement was made between Beebe and the author, and Beebe allowed Henry to purchase the horse for $150 if she included his grandchildren in her next book.
Henry followed through with the agreement and published Misty of Chincoteague in 1947, featuring Maureen, Paul, and the little filly as the main characters of the work. Misty continued to grow up on Henry’s farm in
After ten years on Henry’s farm, Misty returned home to Chincoteague. She passed away in 1976, but her offspring continued to live on the Beebe farm until the last living Beebe, Ralph, passed away. The Chincoteague Mini Pony Farm bought Misty’s family and kept them until the last of Misty’s children died.
After their deaths, both Misty and Stormy’s bodies were preserved and kept on the premises of the farm until its close in 2004. Misty and her foal were then transferred to the Beebe Farm and are still on display for visitors to see. Misty is still remembered, and even has a memorial dedicated to her. This statue can be found on Chincoteague’s