In a sense, every artifact is unique, thanks to its particular history of ownership and use. I won’t go so far as to say that some things are more unique than others, but there are certain pieces that really are absolutely one of a kind. Every autograph book and wedding gown, though specific to an individual, is part of a larger group of similar artifacts with similar stories. In contrast, today’s featured archival items fall generally into the Scrapbook category, but their subject is something that was only accomplished once and is likely to never happen again: A two-year journey on horseback through the forty-eight continental United States.

hitting every state in the union

From the title page: “Hitting Every State in the Union With Gypsy Queen Under Saddle”

On April 4, 1925, Silver Spring resident Frank M. Heath (1868-1945) left Washington, DC, determined to ride his middle-aged Morgan bay mare, Gypsy Queen (1915-1936), through every state in the union. A former U.S. Army Sergeant and a WWI veteran, Heath wanted to improve his health, promote the American Legion (his local was Cissel-Saxon Post 41 in Silver Spring), see the country, and prove that a horse could, in fact, make this arduous journey. The trip was funded through the sale of souvenir postcards as well as Heath’s veterinary skills, which he often plied in return for food and shelter for himself and Queen. Despite a host of unexpected delays, from weather events to restrictive quarantine laws to a broken leg (Heath’s), they persevered and finished their 11,532 mile, 48 state journey on November 4, 1927.

Headline from the Maryland News, Nov. 11, 1927: "Silver Spring Man Returns After Riding Horse Through 48 States"

Headline from the Maryland News, Nov. 11, 1927: “Silver Spring Man Returns After Riding Horse Through 48 States”

The pair retired to Heath’s small farm near Sligo Creek and Colesville Road; from now on, Heath declared, “Gypsy Queen is going to have an easy time the rest of her life.” In 1936, after celebrating her 21st birthday, Queen’s health failed. Heath made the difficult decision that so many animal lovers have to make, and had her humanely put down. Hoping that Queen’s experience would be of use to science, he donated her skeleton to the College of Agriculture at the University of Maryland; the rest of her was buried, with great ceremony*, at Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park in Howard County. In 1941 Heath published a book about their journey, titled (appropriately enough) Forty Million Hoofbeats.

"Gypsy Queen and Heath at home, April 18 1931"

“Gypsy Queen and Heath at home, April 18 1931”

During the trip, Heath collected newspaper clippings, letters, receipts, and souvenirs from the places he visited. He took some photographs himself – particularly of landscapes in the southwest – and asked that copies of photos taken by others be forwarded to his father in Spokane, Washington. All of this documentation he later compiled in two scrapbooks, which were donated to MCHS in 1990 by Mary E. Martin.

The books are a matched pair, measuring 8″x11″, with faded green faux-leather covers stamped “Clippings” in gold.  Heath prepared these volumes carefully; the pages are numbered by hand, and the title page (see the detail photo above, “Hitting Every State”) says “Title and Foreword” in pencil underneath the actual, inked-in title, as if he planned the book’s layout before gluing things down.  When a clipping or photo ended up out of chronological order, Heath left an informative comment (e.g., “This should go a few pages back”). A note on the title page, “Any statement or comment followed by F.M.H. may be considered signed by me Frank M. Heath” (photo at bottom of this post), leads me to conclude that this wasn’t simply a personal effort; he expected this chronicle to be read and studied by others.

Volumes 1 and 2

Volumes 1 and 2

Indeed, the scrapbooks provide the reader with a thorough description of the trip, as seen both by outsiders and by Heath himself. Small-town newspapers reported on the pair’s progress across the country; communities and American Legion posts often welcomed him with celebrations; farmers, housewives, and blacksmiths provided letters of introduction to friends in other places, often citing Heath’s skill in tending to injured or ailing horses.

The note reads: “Mrs. Joe W. Chamberlain [Ala.], Bay Minette, Star Route, (Mobile Ala.), Alabama. Mr. Frank M. Heath. This man is out for a hike so I told him to call on you I send him: from Sister Mrs. Henry Merkle, Brooklyn Hts Ohio.”  Heath added two comments: “(But [on] account of detour because of Ticks I was way off trail F.M.H.)” and, sideways, “(We [he and Queen] had breakfast with these people of Brooklin Ht near Cleveland Ohio F.M.H) P.S. belongs over a few pages.”

The note reads: “Mrs. Joe W. Chamberlain [Ala.], Bay Minette, Star Route, (Mobile Ala.), Alabama. Mr. Frank M. Heath. This man is out for a hike so I told him to call on you I send him: from Sister Mrs. Henry Merkle, Brooklyn Hts Ohio.” Heath added two comments: “(But [on] account of detour because of Ticks I was way off trail F.M.H.)” and, sideways, “(We [he and Queen] had breakfast with these people of Brooklin Ht near Cleveland Ohio F.M.H) P.S. belongs over a few pages.”

Amidst the articles and letters written by other people, Heath’s own voice is not lacking; initialed editorial comments can be found on almost every page. (He was particularly irritated when an article printed Queen’s name incorrectly, or under-counted the miles they’d traveled.) It is worth noting that throughout these records, Heath focused on Gypsy Queen. He denied any “endurance” records or other accolades for himself; emphasized that donations and postcard proceeds were used to buy Queen’s food; kept careful track of Queen’s health and appearance; and titled the covers of both volumes “Photos Clippings Letters Etc. Pertaining to Gypsy Queen’s Trip.” Heath was a horse guy, and this story was about his horse.

Two separate pages from the scrapbook, with a representative sampling: an undated newspaper clipping, photos of Gypsy Queen mailed to Heath's father in Spokane, and letters of testimonial (plus Heath's commentary). Click to enlarge this image . . . or come to our library and peruse them in person!

Two separate pages from the scrapbook, with a representative sampling: an undated newspaper clipping, photos of Gypsy Queen mailed to Heath’s father in Spokane, and letters of testimonial (plus Heath’s commentary). Click to enlarge this image . . . or come to our library and peruse them in person!

 

Close-up of the cover of volume 1, through Nov. 1926.

Close-up of the cover of volume 1: “Photos Clippings and Letters Etc. Pertaining to Gypsy Queen’s Trip. #1 To Spokane Wash. Nov. 10 1926”

I’ve lost count of my “favorite” items I’ve posted on this blog, but this is yet another one. I love this story. In November 2006 Jane Sween wrote about Heath’s journey for the Montgomery County Story (Vol. 49, No. 4), after which several of us here took turns reading our library’s copy of Forty Million Hoofbeats (donated by David Simpson) – and the book is GREAT. The logistics involved in getting a horse to every state are interesting enough, but Heath’s observations – expanded from those found in the scrapbooks – on the people, towns, and cultures he encountered are fascinating. Heath and Gypsy Queen made their trip just as motor vehicles were starting to take over the roads, and this record of their journey captured a vast American landscape, from urban to rural to barely inhabited, that was on the verge of modernization and irrevocable change.

Map of their route; or, how to get a horse to "hit every state."

Map of their route; or, how to get a horse to “hit every state.”

 

Heath and Gypsy Queen’s story might be obscure, but it is not forgotten. Gypsy Queen’s unique feat of endurance is referenced on various equestrian websites (such as The Long Riders Guild history page, which adds some details about how Heath and Queen met), and Forty Million Hoofbeats was reprinted in 2001 by Equestrian Travel Classics. (It’s not currently available as an e-book, but is still for sale in a print version.) For many years, Heath maintained a moderate level of local celebrity thanks to a photo at Fred & Harry’s Restaurant (opened in 1946) in Four Corners, just a few miles from Mr. Heath’s home near Sligo Creek. And Queen herself is listed as one of the famous burials at Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park. Heath created these books for posterity; thanks to the donor, our archives storage, and the wonders of the internet, his goal is still within reach.

 

"Taken at home of Dave Burrows Chetopa Kan R#4 in Sept. 1925. Georgia M. Burrows in saddle. 1st kid to have picture taken on Queen. F.M.H."

“Taken at home of Dave Burrows Chetopa Kan R#4 in Sept. 1925. Georgia M. Burrows in saddle. 1st kid to have picture taken on Queen. F.M.H.”

 

*A bronze plaque in Gypsy Queen’s memory was unveiled at Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park on July 9, 1938, at a ceremony attended by a candidate for governor (the actual governor, Harry Nice, was unfortunately delayed) and other “distinguished guests.” The program featured musical selections and an oration by the Hon. Charles E. Moylan, and finished with a rendition of the National Anthem. The plaque (full text here) details Gypsy Queen’s epic journey and finishes with this line: “A Faithful and Loyal Companion.” (The plaque’s whereabouts are currently unknown, as the cemetery underwent several difficult years; the grounds are currently being restored by the volunteers of the Rosa Bonheur Society.) Several decades later, humans were permitted burial at RB along with their pets; but when Heath died in 1945, he was buried near his family in Spokane, Washington. His stone includes the title of his book.

Front and back views of the souvenir postcard, showing Heath and Queen at the very start of their journey. From the title page of volume 1.

Front and back views of the souvenir postcard, showing Heath and Queen at the very start of their journey. From the title page of volume 1.

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