Atlasobscura.com - Full Article
The ultimate underdog story.
By Cara Giaimo AUGUST 08, 2016
On May 31st, 1976, about 200 well-muscled animals lined up in Frankfort, New York, ready for the race of a lifetime. Bred to perfection, there were Arabian stallions, arch-necked and strong-boned and favored to win by almost all observers and Icelandic ponies, famous for their smooth gait and Viking pedigree. There were the tall Irish thoroughbreds, and there were striking Appaloosas.
And then there was Lord Fauntleroy the mule.
Lord Fauntleroy—"Leroy" for short—was the choice steed of Virl Norton, a steeplejack from San Jose, California. Along with their many rivals, Norton, Leroy, and his backup mule, Lady Eloise, were set to travel 3,500 miles through 13 states for the "Great American Horse Race." They would challenge history, expectations, and a whole lot of fancy horses.
The United States spent 1976 gripped by a sort of bicentennial fever. Stir-crazy after 200 years of freedom, citizens nationwide took the opportunity to throw themselves into patriotic passion projects. America has always been sweet on its own land, and many of these tributes took the form of long, winding journeys across it. Millions turned out to watch the Freedom Train, a traveling museum that chugged through 48 states, and nautical parades, in which tall ships sailed up the coast, flags flying. Railroads companies even gave regular trains new paint jobs, sending them criss-crossing the country in red, white and blue.
Into this atmosphere high-stepped the Great American Horse Race. Dreamed up by Chuck Waggoner and Randy Scheiding, two horse-loving salesmen from the Midwest, the race offered a more historically authentic nationalist experience, molded on that of early European settlers, who lacked trains and automobiles. "This race will give people a chance to see the country in a way it has not been seen in 100 years," Waggoner told the Los Angeles Times before it began...
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