The Cleveland Police Museum collects and preserves the history of policing in Cleveland. Each year, we receive donations of artifacts, photographs and archives that help us tell that story. In these posts, we’ll highlight some of those donations.
Recently, we received a letter written by American author Marguerite Henry to schoolchildren at Madison School, 1130 Addison Road. The Newbery Award winning author wrote fifty nine children’s books about animals, especially horses. Her most famous book is Misty of Chincoteague. In 1951, she published the Album of Horses, which explores twenty six breeds of horses through the stories of individual horses.
In her letter, Henry explains how she came to include Patrolman Tony Welling and his mount, Skippy, in her book, Album of Horses. “On a brisk November noon a few years ago I stepped out of Halle’s Department Store…But suddenly I stopped short. There, at the curb, stood one of the most handsome Morgan horses, mounted by an equally handsome policeman.” She soon learned that Skippy was a hero, having saved “a whole string of horses in the circus fire right on our lake front.”
In her letter, Henry explains how she came to include Patrolman Tony Welling and his mount, Skippy, in her book, The Album of Horses. “On a brisk November noon a few years ago I stepped out of Halle’s Department Store…But suddenly I stopped short. There, at the curb, stood one of the most handsome Morgan horses, mounted by an equally handsome policeman.” She soon learned that Skippy was a hero, having saved “a whole string of horses in the circus fire right on our lake front.”
On August 4, 1942, the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus was in town. Its tents were located on the north side of Lakeside Avenue at East Ninth Street. Shortly before noon that day, a fire of undetermined origin began in a tent housing animals. The standard practice then was to waterproof large canvas tents with a mixture of kerosene and benzene. This may have kept rainwater out, but it was an invitation to disaster in the event of a fire. A disaster is exactly what resulted.
Cleveland firefighters and police rushed to the scene. Skippy saved 20 circus horses during the fire by dodging flames so Officer Welling could grasp the peg rope of the lead mare and lead them to safety. Welling later recalled, “I knew (the circus animals) were afraid of fire, so I went in and got the leader out, and the rest of them followed. It’s a sight I won’t forget.”
Despite the heroic efforts of the firefighters and police, over sixty animals died. Some of the elephants and camels were burned so badly there was no hope of their survival. They were shot by Cleveland police officers to end their suffering. This was a grim day for those who witnessed it, but remarkably, no human lives were lost.
Skippy was a Morgan horse who served with the Cleveland Division of Police in the late 1930s and early 1940s. His rider was Patrolman Anthony E. Welling # 687 (Appointed 08/10/1934; Retired 09/23/1972; End of Watch 03/26/1991). Welling and Skippy were a fixture on Cleveland’s downtown streets for many years. Welling enjoyed interacting with passersby, who often gave pets and treats to Skippy. “I enjoyed the people,” he remembered, Sure they had problems, but that’s what you were there for, to help solve the problem and to be kind and console them.”
The letter, signed by Marguerite Henry, joins our collection along with a copy of Album of Horses signed by Patrolman Tony Welling, donated several years ago. These artifacts help us tell the story one horse and rider, but also the larger story of the Cleveland Police and a tragic day in our community’s history.
Article by Cleveland Police Historical Society and Museum Executive Director Mazie Adams.