Museums lock heads over horse

  • Two war museums in Philadelphia, America are locked in a bitter caught battle over the disputed ownership of a heroic civil war horse’s head.

    The Grand Army of the Republic Museum and Library (GAR) in Philadelphia claims the head of Old Baldy belongs to them, and that they only loaned it to the Civil War Library and Museum (CALM) for a period of 25 years.

    A court conference has been scheduled for next month in Orphan’s court, which deals with non-profit making institutions.

    About Old Baldy

    Old Baldy was the mount of Major General George Gordon Meade. Reported to be one of Philadelphia’s greatest Civil War heroes, he was the commander of northern forces at the Battle of Gettysburg and quite possibly saved the union.

    Major Meade required a mount that was reliable during combat and Old Baldy proved to be just that. Wounded at least 14 times during the Civil War, including once at the Battle of Gettysburg, he outlived his master by 10 years.

    It is believed that during the time he served as a cavalry horse, Old Baldy suffered gunshot wounds to the muzzle and neck and took a bullet in the ribs, which then lodged in his lung. Yet despite all of this he always made a complete recovery and returned back to full health.

    At Meade’s funeral, Old Baldy was the riderless horse who followed behind the cortŠge.

    He died at the age of 30 in December 1882 at the age of 30 and was initially buried on the farm where he spent his retirement in Philadelphia. However, shortly after burial this heroic horse was dug up and his head stuffed and mounted.

    Old Baldy is currently on display at the CWLM on 1805 Pine Street in Philadelphia, who declined to comment on the current situation.

    However, Margaret Atkinson, Secretary of the Board for the GAR is angry at that the CWLM’s refusal to hand back Old Baldy.

    “Everytime there is an article and it mentions Old Baldy as their primary artefact, it just makes my blood boil.”

    According to Margaret and her husband Bud, who is one of the museum’s directors, Old Baldy was “lent” to a group of Civil War enthusiasts who agreed to cover the cost of renovating it.

    However, once the restoration work was completed they refused to give it back and the GAR didn’t have any proof it belonged to them until Bud found a letter dating from 1978.

    Addressed to Margaret’s father, who at that time was the president of the GAR organisation, it stated that the GAR placed Old Baldy and a war mule’s head in the safekeeping of the CALM.

    It was this letter that gave Bud the evidence he needed to file a lawsuit in April 2000. So far it has dragged through the court system, but it is hoped that the matter will soon be resolved.

    In a statement, the Board of Directors of the GAR Civil War Museum said: “We are hopeful that our suit requesting return the heads of Old Baldy and the Army Mule will be settled in our favour.”

    “Although many years have transpired since they ostensibly took the heads ‘on loan’, it certainly is accepted museum practice to return items that are loaned out for display in other museums.

    “As we are in the process of expanding our museum, having purchased the adjoining property, we hope the case will be settled in our behalf in a speedy manner to allow us to make definite plans for the placement of our artefacts and library.”

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