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Faces of Yesterday
A Century-old Photograph Raises More Questions than It Answers

(This article was originally published in The Belgian Review, 2017.)

     The year 1917 had been a most eventful one by the time members of the American Association of Importers and Breeders of Belgian Draft Horses assembled on December 6 at Chicago's LaSalle Hotel to celebrate the organization's thirtieth anniversary.

     To put the year in proper perspective, World War I - which had prompted H. G. Wells to idealistically postulate that the Great War would be "the war to end war" - waged on. Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States. King George V was the reigning monarch in the United Kingdom.  Russia's Tsar Nicholas II had been forced to abdicate on March 25, and he along with his family would be murdered by the Bolsheviks the following year, signaling an end to the Romanov dynasty. The United States acquired the Danish West Indies for $25 million, renaming them the U.S. Virgin Islands. The first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded. Arthur Conan Doyle published His Last Bow, a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories.  Spanish artist Pablo Picasso painted Olga Picasso in an Armchair, and French painter Henri Matisse completed The Painter and His Model. The first commercial jazz recording, "Livery Stable Blues," was released by New Orleans' Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Wire Fox terrier Champion Conejo Wycollar Boy had been Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York. Famed Thoroughbred racehorse and sire Man o' War was foaled on March 29 at Lexington, Kentucky's Nursery Stud.  And Muskogee Boy - owned by L. R. Kershaw, a noted attorney, businessman and Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate from Muskogee - was Grand Champion Steer of All Breeds at the International Livestock Exposition in Chicago. The following year, the Angus steer would auction for $3.16 a pound (for a total of $5,890) to benefit the American Red Cross.

     In the Belgian draft horse world, history had been made on October 16 at the dispersal sale of William Crownover's Belgian herd in Hudson, Iowa. The imported stallion, Farceur, fetched a stunning $47,500, a world record auction price for a draft horse that would not be broken for nearly a century.  Farceur's indelible impact on the Belgian breed would prove monumental, and his new owner, C. G. Good of Ogden, Iowa, would undertake a linebreeding program with Farceur as the impetus, prompting much study and reflection in draft horse circles for years to come.  Indicative of Farceur's impact, in 1917 his two illustrious daughters, Lista and Salome, were Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion respectively at Chicago's International.
     Yes, the Belgian Association's thirtieth anniversary was an occasion worth celebrating, as some of the breed's most important movers and shakers gathered, dressed in their finest attire amid the elegant ambience of Hotel LaSalle's Red Room. Designed by Holdabird and Roche, the LaSalle "sought the well-to-do merchant, the tourist, and the capitalist who would appreciate and could afford the conveniences and luxuries of the modern hotel" (Host and Portmann, 2006). In 1917, Chicago-bound importers and foundational breeders of the Belgian draft horse were definitely capitalists…and tourists, for sure. No doubt reflecting on a memorable year and, perhaps in the back of their minds, pondering the uncertainties on the horizon as communism and fascism seemed to be on the rise, these individuals could not have foreseen a future marked by yet another world war or the advent of mechanized farming which would ultimately supersede their way of life, bringing an end to draft horse importing as a commercial industry.
     Interestingly, the subject of this article, my photograph from the thirtieth anniversary banquet of the American Association of Importers and Breeders of Belgian Draft Horses, was acquired in a 2005 online auction from Eric DuPont, a dealer in Asper in Belgium's East Flanders province, who explained to me in an e-mail that he was neither a horseman nor the descendant of a breeder but was simply a "seller of old papers" and "happy that the old photo is back to the USA."  His acquisition of the photograph from an estate sale, flea market or maybe a "boot" sale likely suggests that someone attending the 1917 meeting was from Belgium and had arranged to purchase a print from photographer Kaufmann and Fabry Company.  Almost ninety years later, having survived World War II, the photograph - a rather large one, at that - finds its way into the hands of a dealer before it makes yet another trans-Atlantic journey, arriving in my possession.  I have been informed that a print hangs on a wall at the office of the Belgian Draft Horse Corporation, but I am unsure of how many prints were actually produced. Undoubtedly, they are rare. Furthermore, the identity of the individuals pictured might be difficult to surmise, considering even the young boy seated in the foreground to the far left of the image would now be deceased.  Perhaps Crownover and Good are present. Could the aforementioned boy be 14-year-old Lester Good, who just months earlier at the Crownover dispersal, had persisted 'Buy him, Dad' (Telleen, 1988), as his father contemplated the purchase of Farceur? Sadly, so much time has passed that most of these people, if not all of them, might remain unidentified.

     Nonetheless, the photograph is a great artifact of Belgian draft horse history even if it raises more questions than it answers.

Author:  Greg Freeman.  Published September 25, 2021.

Host, William R. and Portmann, Brooke Ahne. Early Chicago Hotels. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia
Publishing, 2006.

Telleen, Maurice. "Farceur and the Stuff Legends Are Made Of," Draft Horse Journal, Winter 1988-89.
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     In addition to being a life-long horse lover, Greg Freeman is an author, editor, recording artist, songwriter and amateur visual artist, as well as an avid gardener and daffodil hybridist, judge and exhibitor. 
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