Beautiful Jim Key: The Lost History of a Horse and a Man Who Changed the Worldby Mim E. Rivas
For close to a century, a majestic chapter of American history has been buried in an obscure grave in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Beautiful Jim Key, the onetime ugly duckling of a scrub colt that became one of the most heralded and beloved heroes of his day, was famous neither for his beauty nor his speed but instead for his exceptional intelligence. Said to have an
For close to a century, a majestic chapter of American history has been buried in an obscure grave in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Beautiful Jim Key, the onetime ugly duckling of a scrub colt that became one of the most heralded and beloved heroes of his day, was famous neither for his beauty nor his speed but instead for his exceptional intelligence. Said to have an I.Q. equivalent to that of a human sixth-grader, Jim exploded on to the national scene in 1897 by demonstrating inexplicable abilities to read, write, spell, do mathematics, tell time, sort mail, cite biblical passages, and debate politics.
For the next nine years, Jim performed in nationwide expositions and world's fairs to wildly receptive crowds, smashing box-office records, overcoming hurdles of prejudice and skepticism, all the while winning rapturous praise from the press and leaders such as President McKinley, Booker T. Washington, and Alice Roosevelt Longworth.
In this breathtaking saga, Jim's astonishing journey is coupled with that of his trainer and best friend, Dr. William Key, a self-taught veterinarian, former slave, Civil War veteran, prominent African-American entrepreneur, and one of the most renowned horse whisperers of his time a man who shunned all force in the training of horses, instead relying on kindness and patience.
Masterful storyteller and bestselling author Mim Eichler Rivas at long last gives two cultural icons their due, not only unraveling the mystery of their disappearance but examining how, thanks to the rare and intimate relationship between horse and man that was championed by promoter and humane activist Albert R. Rogers, a dramatic shift took place in the public mind that made kindness to animals a cornerstone of modern civilization and helped launch the animal rights movement. Unveiled against the backdrop of American history, Beautiful Jim Key is their incredible tale.
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Beautiful Jim Key
The Lost History of a Horse and a Man Who Changed the World
Saturday, April 30, 1904.
The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, Opening Day.
Miss Alice Roosevelt parted the seas of fairgoers as she paused to smooth her skirt, making sure, as she always did, that it had just the right swing. With her gaze fixed ahead at her destination, the unusual Silver Horseshoe Building, the President's daughter continued along the Pike, the exposition's mile-long amusement area. Gone was her trademark expression of boredom. On her way to preside at an Opening Day performance given by the smartest horse in the world, Alice appeared to be positively delighted.
Neither Alice nor her escort, Ohio congressman Nicholas Longworth, had yet to witness the horse in action, but they had certainly read his press and heard enough claims about the Celebrated Educated Arabian-Hambletonian to understand why he was expected to be the top draw on the Pike.
This stretch of marketplaces and attractions, she could see, didn't have the expansive grandeur of the rest of the fair. Architecturally, there was no comparison. Thus far, the Pike was an unfinished hodgepodge, while the main exhibit areas seemed to be perfectly realized visions. They radiated in avenues and plazas to provide spectacular views of the main Festival Hall -- one part Louis Quatorze and three parts fairyland -- along with the euphoric Cascade Gardens pumping ninety thousand gallons of water per minute into geysers and fountains that spilled over plunging falls lit by green glass steps, offsetting the futuristic fantasy of the Palace of Electricity, which turned megawattage into visual evidence that the planners had truly outdone themselves.
Earlier that day, exposition president David Francis had welcomed the first flanks of what would total 200,000 Opening Day visitors. The weather itself was miraculous. It had been cold and stormy for weeks in St. Louis, with black skies and oppressive winds almost causing Francis and fellow officials to delay the date of the opening. After they decided to take the risk and open, rain or shine, the city nervously awoke at dawn that Saturday to a pale fog. By early morning, the sun broke through, sending the temperature and humidity rising, and basking the World's Fair in a jubilant golden mist.
Alice Roosevelt and Congressman Longworth were on hand to listen as John Philip Sousa and his band played "Louisiana" while simultaneously, back in Washington, D.C., in the East Room of the White House, Alice's father, President Theodore Roosevelt, was joined by an assembly of ambassadors and ministers from around the globe, his cabinet, justices of the Supreme Court, president pro tern of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House. The President was then handed a golden key, which he ceremoniously turned to trigger a telegraphic transmission that moments later in St. Louis unleashed the electricity required to raise and unfurl flags of all nations, thus starting the machinery of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.
"Open ye gates!" shouted David Francis, after the cries of the crowd had subsided. "Swing wide ye portals! Enter herein ye sons of men! Learn the lesson here taught and gather from it inspiration for still greater accomplishments!"
Trumpeting the fair's themes of progress and education, Francis made no apologies for the unfinished construction of the Pike. Rather, he promoted the manner in which he and fellow planners had looked for a way to elevate the carnival atmosphere associated with amusement and midway areas by envisioning it as a "living color page of the world." Anything foreign or different was a go: food, beverages, rides, shows, souvenirs, creatures, and humans. But ironically, as the months ahead would prove, for all its otherness, the Pike became the soul of the Exposition, the mingling and mixing pot that was becoming America. It was the meeting place of the fair, to be immortalized in song and film, where the nation responded to the call to "Meet Me in St. Louis."
The mile-long Pike was so called in tribute to its trek across time and space that reached at its zenith the stratosphere of the North Pole (but only took twenty minutes to climb), echoed by the dominating snowcapped Alpine peaks at the avenue's eastern border. As an unmistakable precursor to Disneyland's Matterhorn, the Alpine heights were complete with medieval castles, peasants singing Tyrolean folk songs, a mammoth cyclorama enclosed within the mountains' caves, and a heart-racing tram ride up the slopes, on which the Piker (any visitor to the Pike) could observe the lay of the land.
Even though construction hadn't been completed by Opening Day, Alice and her escort and most of the 200,000 fairgoers who poured onto the Pike at noon, could see the magical domain shaping up. Due west of the Alpine Heights was the Irish Village with the Blarney Stone Theatre, Irish dancing maidens, and the Great Dublin Army Band playing Celtic music, while an adjacent concession, Under and Over the Sea, used lights and scenery to evoke the Jules Verne-inspired experience of a submarine ride to Paris with a return by airship. This was still considered futuristic, even though five months earlier at Kitty Hawk the Wright Brothers had taken their machine-powered Flyer on her maiden voyage.
Below France, the Streets of Seville were so painstakingly recreated by Mrs. Hattie McCall Travis, the only female concessionaire on the Pike, that the massive undertaking was reported to have killed her before completion. Next came the Hagenback Animal Paradise with a glamorous assortment of animals to rival any of P. T. Barnum's menageries, displayed not behind bars but simply with mosquito netting to separate spectators and animals. From there, the Piker could travel toward Mysterious Asia, past the wares and snake charmers in the Taj Mahal marketplace, under the carved and gilded gateway to the Japanese gardens, through the Chinese Village, into the Moorish Palace with its wax museum display of anthropological history, to Cairo and Constantinople, amid roaming elephants, monkeys, camels, and donkeys ...Beautiful Jim Key
The Lost History of a Horse and a Man Who Changed the World. Copyright © by Mim Rivas. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Mim Eichler Rivas is the author of the acclaimed Beautiful Jim Key, as well as the coauthor of more than eighteen books, including The Pursuit of Happyness and Finding Fish with Antwone Fisher.
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I found this story at the St. Charles County Library and am purchasing a copy for myself. Bill Key was one of the most incredible horse trainers that ever lived. God rewarded him with a colt who was the smartest horse on earth. Bill's adventures as a child "horse whisperer" and throughout his life are an inspiration to animal lovers everywhere.