What is perhaps the most beloved pony in children’s literature is preserved in more than just books and movies. The body of the real-life Misty of Chincoteague is displayed for all to see. Her pinto coat still looks fluffy and shiny, and her lifeless eyes still hold hints of the sweetness that endeared her to children around the world.
Marguerite Henry was inspired to write her book Misty of Chincoteague while spending a summer on the titular island in 1946. Henry was there to witness the annual pony swim and auction. This long-time tradition involved “Saltwater Cowboys” rounding up feral ponies on nearby Assateague Island and having them swim the channel to Chincoteague, where they would be auctioned off.
While on Chincoteague, Henry met the owners of Beebe Ranch, and was inspired to write about it. She told the Beebes it would help make their ranch famous and they would be able to sell a lot of ponies reared there. Henry also wanted to buy a foal from the ranch named Misty. The Beebes were hesitant, but agreed to sell Misty if Henry would include their grandchildren Paul and Maureen in the book.
Once Misty was weaned, Henry had her brought back to her house in Wayne, Illinois. Misty lived there with Henry for 10 years. During that time, Misty did many fan appearances, learned to perform tricks, and was the only equine member of the American Library Association. Henry also hosted a public birthday party for Misty every year.
After 10 years in Illinois, Misty was sent back to the Beebe Ranch so she could be bred. More than 300 children attended her farewell party. Back on her native island, she had three foals, including Stormy, the subject of another book of Henry’s. Misty lived out the rest of her life on the Beebe Ranch.
Misty died in 1972 at the age of 26. The taxidermy remains of her and her daughter Stormy, who died in 1993, are now on display at the Museum of Chincoteague.