Friday, April 6, 2012

Of Illusions Shattered

By Kitson

The Wick Home in Morristown, New Jersey
This week I visited family in New Jersey. On my way home, I took a slight detour through Morris County to drive past the farm that my grandparents once owned in Morristown. I also visited the nearby National Historical Parkat Jockey Hollow. I had visited there when I was a child and loved hearing about the legend of Tempe Wick, the young colonial woman who, during the Revolutionary War, hid her beloved horse inside her family’s home from mutinous, horse-thieving soldiers. What's not to love about Tempe?

I recently read the historical young adult novel, A Ride into Morning by Ann Rinaldi, which details the legend of Tempe Wick. I loved it. I was eager to revisit the place where it all took place. It was a beautiful New Jersey spring morning yesterday as I approached the Wick home, which is just a few paces beyond the visitor center at Jockey Hollow. I imagined scenes from the book playing out -- on the road where Tempe outsmarted the soldiers and galloped home, the orchard that she and her horse, an impressive white gelding named Colonel, snuck through to get into the house, the door through which she must have brought him into the house. I imagined the soldiers looking for the horse in the barn and leaving outsmarted, never thinking to look in the house.

An historian in period costume opened shutters and fiddled with large iron keys as I entered the house. Right away, I asked him why there wasn’t any information about Tempe Wick and her horse in the visitor’s center. He gave me a look somewhere between boredom and loathing, then said, “You’re not going to like the answer to that question.”

He then told me that the story of Tempe and how she hid her horse in the house was fiction. Fiction!? Yes, Temperance Wick lived in this house during the Revolutionary War and yes, thousands of soldiers camped on the 1,400 acre farm for several bitter cold winters. But hide her horse in the house from mutinous, horse-thieving solders? Unlikely, he said.

According to the historian (I had to give some credit to his 30 years of studying New Jersey history) there was no written record of Tempe’s heroic story until 90 years after the events allegedly happened. And even once the story was recorded, it changed constantly. In some accounts the soldiers were British, in others, they were from Pennsylvania. The years don’t match up to actual history. The horse was said to have been hidden upstairs, downstairs, in a bedroom, on the porch, and even down the well. Some say he was hidden for one night, others say weeks or months. Standing inside the house, I must admit, the ancient, narrow interior doors seemed way too skinny for a horse. 

The barn behind the Wick home
But I persisted. What about the horse-shoe print in the floor boards that I had seen with my very own eyes in this very same historical spot when I was a child? “Oh that,” he said. 

The horseshoe print that I had seen in the floorboard of the house was not made by Tempe Wick’s white gelding in 1799. Nope. It was made by a handyman in 1960's with a horse shoe and a sledge hammer. My historian friend said that the handyman "wanted to give people something to look at.” The floorboards have since been replaced.

1 comment:

  1. The horseshoe is the most amazing detail. I can't believe that someone installed one rather than answer questions about it! I bet that is the main reason the legend persisted. I wish she had really done what her story said. . .