This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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Clover the Horse and the Boys Band

24 January 2015



This is Clover, a former racehorse with a remarkable record. His achievement didn't come from winning on the track, but from being a champion on the race course of time. When this photo was made in 1922, Clover's age was 51 years. 

His owner was Rev. Dr. Uriah Meyers, who is the man in the straw boater hat standing beside Clover. In 1921 when Rev. Meyers retired on a small church pension of $33 a month, he was forced to solicit support to care for this phenomenal horse who had been his faithful companion over the many years that the reverend made his ministerial rounds in east central Pennsylvania. Afraid that he might have to put the animal down, friends of  Rev. Meyers endeavored to get Clover's story published in newspapers, veterinary journals, and horseman magazines all around the country.


Source: The Literary Digest, May 06, 1922


This short article appeared in the Shoals, IN News on May 26, 1922
and gives the best account of Clover's tale.
Horse Aged 51 Astonishes the World


All the world of horse-lovers is talking about Clover, a Hanibletonian trotting horse. Why? Because Clover is alive and hearty at fifty-one years of age — which is believed to be a world record. Clover's owner is the Rev. Dr. Uriah Meyers, seventy-five, former pastor of St. Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran church of Catawissa. Pa. The reverend gentleman, retired on a pension, had become so poor that it looked as if he and Clover would have to part. The New York World got hold of the story of man and horse. Financial and other aid for both man and horse was the immediate result of publicity. And how the horsemen are talking about Clover! 

"I bought Clover in 1884," said Edwin J. Walker of Philadelphia. Four years later I sold him — practically gave him — to Doctor Myers, my cousin, who promised him a home for life and used him in his pastoral work. Clover is a dark bay, 16 hands, of Hambletonlan stock. He's a double-gaited horse — trots and swings into a pace. I often drove him over the Wisahicken drive to wagon or sleigh and used to win the basket of wine offered in the old days to the first to reach Fairmount Inn. He could trot in 2:17, and when he was fortytwo I drove him a quarter in 36 seconds. He was always "babied"; that accounts for his age, I suppose. He still has his teeth and his eyes are good; he knows me every time I visit Mr. Myers. I had Clover's pedigree, but lost it. He raced under another name."


Horse experts the world over agree that fifty-one years is an unheard-of age for a horse — any kind of a horse on four legs. Kingston, the famous American thoroughbred, achieved additional fame by living to twenty-eight. A Canadian horse is known to have lived to the age of at least thirty-eight. An English pony is stated to have lived to be thirty-nine.


Mr. Myers is said to be a "natural born horseman" and has given Clover the best of care. Possibly Clover's fame may be great. Horsemen think he should be exhibited.




Clover lived at Reverend Meyers' home in the small town of Catawissa on the Susquehanna River. It was about 75 miles from the city of Allentown, PA where another Lutheran minister, Reverend John Raker, had a different kind of charity to promote, his Good Shepherd Home for Children. And like every orphanage in America in this era, the home had a boys band of musicians playing cornets, trombones, clarinets, flutes, and drums. According to the caption, this was the band's second tour, presumably of eastern Pennsylvania.

In the summer of 1922, the two ministers arranged to appear together in Catawissa and this photo postcard was taken to commemorate the event. Rev. Raker wearing a slightly disheveled hat stands on the far left from Clover. Next to him with a straw boater is the band's director, Joseph Smith.





What made this boys band different from all the rest was that many of the boys are on crutches and have leg braces. The Good Shepherd Home of Allentown, PA was established in 1908 by Rev. Raker as a Home for Crippled Children and Old People. In earlier times the word crippled had a less pejorative meaning and the young musicians were regularly advertised as the Band of Crippled Orphans. The two girls behind the bass drum were blind and were featured singers with the band.





The boys in the band of the Good Shepherd Home are seated and standing in front of their small motor bus which was evidently still large enough for 22 children and instruments. Raising money for charities dedicated to this kind of social welfare was very challenging so many orphanages and children homes sent their bands out during the summer months to play at county fairs, civic events, and church socials. Selling souvenir postcards was a common way to generate donations.

In 1921 the Good Shepherd Home was still a young institution trying to fulfill a difficult mission for a growing number of handicapped children. America was rapidly changing with the end of WW1 and the resulting economic boom made charities very competitive. Of course we in the future know that before the 1920s end the Great Depression will make things even more difficult.

Many families could not manage the specialized care needed for children with a physical impairment or a debilitating disease. It is likely that many of these boys were not orphans but came from poor families unable to cope with their disabilities. Though affiliated with the Lutheran Church, as superintendent of the home Rev. Raker  made no restrictions on accepting children. The Good Shepherd Home took in its first Catholic child in 1910, the first Jewish child in 1918, and the first African American children in 1919.

Rev. Raker remained as Good Shepherd’s superintendent until his death in 1941. At that time his work was taken over by his son, Rev. Dr. Conrad W. Raker. Today the Good Shepherd Home has expanded its services to become a leader in rehabilitation care for people suffering from brain and spinal cord injuries, or who have complex orthopedic and cognitive disabilities.



Harrisburg PA Evening News
August 03, 1922

The postcard photo appeared in the August 3, 1922 edition of  the Harrisburg, PA Evening News along with a lengthy caption. Despite Clover's great age, it would not be the last time that the Good Shepherd Boys Band and Clover posed for a photo. A similar photo was made the following year (available on the Good Shepherd Home website) showing the boys and their band director, Joseph Smith, in fancy new band uniforms. Clearly their music was a successful way to promote Rev. Raker's foundation and good works.  


  Mount Carmel PA Item
April 28, 1924

Clover lived two more years to die on April 27, 1924 at age 53.

Without Clover's charitable assistance, Rev. Meyers and his wife struggled on through the depression years on his meager pastoral pension. Rev. Uriah Meyers finished his race on April 1, 1932 at age 85.



This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
Click the link for more horses of another kind.






11 comments:

Deb Gould said...

Wonderful, wonderful story!

Postcardy said...

What an amazing horse! Of course, the band and orphanage are interesting too. I feel sorry for the reverend trying to live on such a meager pension.

La Nightingail said...

A lovely and moving story. No doubt Clover's longevity can be traced, in part, to genes. But the Reverend's good and loving treatment of his beloved horse must have had much to do with it! And kudos to orphanages who taught their inhabitants to play instruments so they could perform in a band - giving them purpose and a way to feel proud of themselves for having accomplished something worthwhile.

Jo Featherston said...

A great story. Certainly hard to believe a horse could survive so long, but there it is in black and white, if the Reverend and Edwin Walker were telling the truth.

boundforoz said...

It is always rewarding to read about such good people. Such a moving story.

Sharon said...

A very enjoyable and interesting post.

I do wonder if they were mistaken in the age of the horse, with the average life span being 25 - 35 years.

He bought the horse in 1884 but the article was written in 1922 - that is 38 years but how old was the horse when he bought it?

Kristin said...

Good for the horse, for the rev and I'm glad the home is still going on and doing good.

Little Nell said...

What an uplifting and interesting story.

Nancy said...

What an interesting pairing - Clover and the band from the orphanage. I can hardly imagine the loss Rev. Myers probably felt after so many years spent caring for Clover. I would have known of neither Clover or the orphanage without this post. Thanks for sharing.

Alan Burnett said...

As always such a fascinating read. When I started reading the piece I thought "but where is the band?" but before too long along it came. And what a magnificent beast that is: as I get older I get more and more admiration for creatures that achieve a grand old age.

L. D. said...

It really is a great story. The horse is special one.

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