Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Friends at Rest: Benjamin Franklin Talbert Shod the First Winner of the Triple Crown

by Fran Jurga | 5 May 2009 | Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog

An anvil marks the grave of someone named Benjamin Franklin Talbert in Pennville, Indiana. In case you are having trouble reading the lettering it says "Here lies an old horse shoer. Maybe not the best, but as good as the rest." (Daniel Lillard photo.)

Before the 2009 Kentucky Derby recedes in our memories (well, not much chance of that), I'd like to remind readers of my desire to construct a list of horseshoers who shod Kentucky Derby winners. If you know who shod which winner, please send an email to Any help would be wonderful--do not assume that I already know the obvious ones.

All that is by way of introducing today's photo. It's a pretty unique gravestone that you will find if you snoop around the cemetery in Pennville, Indiana. Thanks to Pennville's super historian, and my fellow blogger, Daniel Lillard, I can share some information about this grave with you.

The anvil and its self-effacing plaque mark the grave of Benjamin Franklin Talbert, a Pennville native who started out learning to shoe horses there in the 1880s, when he was paid a dollar a day. But Talbert thought he could do better, and lit out for the Oklahoma oil territory, where he met a rich oilman who needed someone to shoe his racehorses.

If Talbert wanted to see the world, he got his wish. He started to tour on the racetrack circuit from Cuba to Canada--and everywhere in between--for the next 30 years. Eventually he landed the job as the contract farrier for the stable of Joseph E. Widener, the wealthy art collector who owned Belmont Park and was the developer of the winter racing mecca at Hialeah in Florida.

Talbert shod the great racehorse Sir Barton, who was the very first winner of the Triple Crown, back in 1919; Sir Barton was yet another of those great racehorses troubled by sore feet. There's an excellent description of Sir Barton's brittle hoof walls and shelly feet in the wonderful book Man o' War by our friend Dorothy Ours. She did some thorough research and said that Talbert used piano felt to line Sir Barton's shoes but that they still wouldn't stay on and often flew off during races.

He also shod Zev, the winner of the 1923 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. The list of stakes winners he shod goes on and on. Widener's stable and his Elmendorf Farm in Kentucky were world-renowned.

During World War II, two events happened that must have deeply affected Talbert. First his employer Widener died, so he may have technically been out of a job; then the US government closed all the racetracks in support of the war effort. A government memo suggested that the horseshoers would be well-suited to work in welding shops and shipyards; they were better off than than the jockeys, who were urged to enlist for duty in the noses of bomber planes, where their small size would make them an asset.

So Talbert, who was getting on in years anyway, moved home to Pennville in 1944, and opened a blacksmithing and welding shop where he worked until his death in 1959.

Oh, the stories I bet he could tell in that little town. Now all that's left is an anvil in the ground, a man who has lived all over Europe and remembers it in a blog he writes about growing up in Indiana, and a hoof blog that is trying to find people like Benjamin Franklin Talbert.

If you go: Pennville is a town of 700 people in Jay County, Indiana. Click here to read Daniel's excellent blog about the little town that has never really left him, though he has traveled far and wide, much like Benjamin Franklin Talbert. Will Daniel ever find his way home again? I guess I'll have to keep reading his blog to find out.


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