The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Currents

February 19, 2012

Sir Henry’s last ride

Horse monument harks back to time when the Windsor area was home to the mud circus

For more than 120 years, a white marble circus horse has stood in Windsor Township as reminder of both the glory days of mud circuses and a tragic romance.

The horse thus memorialized is Sir Henry, the star of the Hamilton and Sargent New York Circus. An inscription at the base of the monument reads “Sir Henry, The Champion Trick Horse.” His front legs rest upon a stone basket, a cutaway of which reveals a sleeping pug dog. Legend has it that the dog, whose name was not recorded by history, slept in Sir Henry’s stable and was his constant companion.

The carver of this monument is documented as Howard A. Brigden, a Mesopotamia artist. Born in 1841, Brigden was a Civil War veteran, among the first men from Trumbull County to enlist in the Union Army upon the beginning of the hostilities. One of Brigden’s early sculpture projects was a monument to the Civil War dead. Working with his mentor, Walter Supple, Brigden carved the eagle that tops the monument, which still stands on the Mesopotamia village green.

Nearby, in the Fairview Cemetery, many examples of Brigden’s stone carving skills mark the graves of cherished citizens. The most poignant of these stands as a memorial to Dio L. Reynolds. Dio was 6 when he died from a fall out of an apple tree. His dog was inconsolable, and for weeks lay under the tree, his paws holding fast to Dio’s hat.

Brigden’s carving captures in stone that heart-breaking love between a dog and his master.

The Sir Henry monument appears to be part of a greater body of circus-inspired art. In Bristolville 11 years ago, a cut-stone lion attributed to Brigden brought a whopping $75,000 at auction. Not all art historians were convinced, however, that the lion was Brigden’s work.

A Plain Dealer Magazine article published Nov. 30, 1947, tells of a visit with Marshall Hamilton’s daughter, Zella Newshuler, who lived on Route 45 in Orwell. The reporter stated that stone animals once belonging to a local circus man were placed on the front yard of the house every summer. It’s possible, therefore, that Sir Henry was just one of several animals from Hamilton’s circus thus honored in stone. Was the Bristolville lion one of these gone astray?

An article written in the 1960s for the Ashtabula County Historical Society makes an intriguing mention of a “lovely old painting of the white circus horse” hanging in he home of Newshuler, who was a bookkeeper for the Hilliard circus. The article also confirms that the circus animals carved in stone and wood were those from the Hamilton circus.

The Sir Henry monument is not dated. “Artists in Ohio, 1787-1900,” has an entry for Brigden and dates the Sir Henry monument to 1871, after the beloved horse died following a performance. But there are other references that suggest Sir Henry did not leave this life until as late as 1887 and that the monument was carved while he was still alive.

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