The Real Misty of Chincoteague

the true story of Misty of Chincoteague

I don’t know many horse crazed kids who haven’t ready Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague — probably multiple times. Although the book stays quite close to the book, here is a case where truth is even more interesting than fiction. This Smithsonian article gives wonderful insights into how Misty’s story extended beyond the book. Other good sites to learn about Misty are Misty Heaven, which has a ton of wonderful photos, and the True Tale of Misty, Stormy and maybe the worst nor’easter of them all.

Marguerite Henry and MistyIn 1945, Marguerite received a letter telling the tale of ponies that washed into the sea hundreds of years ago when a Spanish galleon crashed on a hidden reef. The ponies swam for the nearest shore at Assateague Island. This spurred her to visit for pony penning day — where she and illustrator, Wesley Dennis, learned about Misty’s story.

What I didn’t know, is that Henry shipped Misty back to her home in Wayne, Illinois where she became a local celebrity. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Misty being separated from the Paul and Maureen Beebe, the orphans who buy Phantom and her filly Misty, and bring them to their grandparents’ farm.  In fact, Clarence Beebee refused to sell Misty until Clarence at first refused, but sold her after Mrs. Henry said she would include his Maureen and Paul in the book. Luckily Misty returned to the islands in 1957 where she was turned back out on Chincoteague to be bred.

Misty’s next adventure occurred during the Ash Wednesday storm in 1962. A pregnant Misty weathered the storm in the Beebee family’s kitchen, while human residents were evacuated to nearby Wallops Island.

Still, fans worried about the beloved pony. Their fears were magnified when they learned Misty was pregnant. Officials on the Eastern Shore told the Associated Press that their phones had been ringing off the hook with calls about Misty. Often, a child’s voice was on the end of the line, asking if Misty was all right. “Misty of Chincoteague Reported Safe,” ran one in the Washington Post. “Relax, Kids, Misty’s OK,” said a Pennsylvania paper.

Flooding around the Beebee's farm
This aerial photo shows the flooding around the Beebee’s home. Misty’s barn was flooded but she was safe in the kitchen.

While Misty made it through the storm, not all the ponies came out so lucky. Of the 300 living on both islands, 55 died on Assateague and 90 on Chincoteague. Many drowned, carried out to sea.

Misty and her filly, Stormy
Misty and her filly, Stormy.

Misty gave birth shortly after the storm, and as Henry’s readers all know. The foal was named Stormy.

Unfortunately, the storm devastated the economy on the islands and with so many ponies killed in the storm, there could be no annual penning day.

Misty, in her own way, came to the rescue. Twentieth Century Fox re-released its film into theaters as a fundraiser for the “Misty Disaster Fund.” Proceeds restocked the pony herd, buying back ponies sold in the past.

Misty and Stormy went to theaters as part of the fundraiser — they were a real hit and helped convince people both to donate money and to sell back Chincoteague ponies to restock the herd.

Although Stormy is Misty of Chincoteague’s most famous foal, she actually had two foals before her: Phantom Wings and Wisp O’Mist. All three of her foals were sired by a Chincoteague stallion named Wings.

Misty with her three foals: Phantom Wings, Wisp O'Mist and Stormy
Misty with her three foals: Phantom Wings, Wisp O’Mist and Stormy

 

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4 thoughts on “The Real Misty of Chincoteague

  1. It’s been on my bucket list for years. I don’t think I could handle the crowds that show up for pony penning, but would love to see the islands and the horses at a less congested time.

  2. I lived in maryland for several years but never got the chance to go to pony penning!
    I think I read virtually every book Henry wrote and Wesley Dennis’s illustrations just put them over the top.
    There are just some coalitions: an author finding the exact right illustrator..that make a good book even better, and this was one of them. Henry and Dennis were one, Margery Sharp and Garth Williams are the other. Those four people’s books still stick in my mind, and when I see a reprint of the author’s books WITHOUT the artwork, I think, no, this isn’t the Real book.
    I was so young when I read “Misty” that I really didn’t grasp the significance or the consequences of the storm. What I think hit me most was the dog being found in the smokehouse. The dog didn’t suffer a bit….;-)

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