A 100-year-old horse racing tale that unfolded on two continents, against a backdrop of world war and with a host of historically notable people, will come to life again this month at the Hays-Heighe House at Harford Community College, which also figures prominently in the story.
The campus museum's annual equine exhibition, which opens to the public on Tuesday, Oct. 14, with a special reception from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., commemorates the 100th anniversary of racehorse Durbar II's victory at the Epsom Derby. The exhibition will be in place through Jan. 16, 2015. There is no charge for admission.
Guest curated by Maryanna Skowronski, Historical Society of Harford County Director, "The Racehorse, the Royals, and the Writer: The Legacy of Herman Duryea" travels back in time to when horse racing truly was the Sport of Kings and ruled the sporting headlines on both sides of the Atlantic.
The exhibition will also highlight other interesting aspects of life in the first quarter of the 20th Century.
"I've wanted to portray the story of Durbar II and his owners, the Duryeas and the Heighes, since I first learned about the horse nearly 20 years ago," Skowronski said. "It's a story filled with the glamour of The Gilded Age and beyond in the history of the United States and Great Britain. It also encompasses so many of the major events of that era, including the devastating impact of World War I and the bravery and determination of suffragettes on both sides of the Atlantic."
A special kickoff dinner for this year's exhibition will be held Fridatm Oct. 10, featuring an appearance by Hugo Vickers, author and biographer of the British Royal Family, who will be flying in from his home in the United Kingdom, Skowronski said.
Vickers is a writer, broadcaster and theatrical performer, who has lectured in many countries, including the United States. He has published numerous books about members of the British Royal Family. The most recent, "Behind Closed Doors" (2011), tells the story of Wallis Simpson. Skowronski said Vickers has often put his inside knowledge of the Royal Family to use as a studio commentator for events such as the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales and the late Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, Diana's funeral in 1997, the wedding of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, the Queen Mother's centenary celebrations in 2000 and her funeral.
Vickers was a historical advisor for the 2010 Academy Award-winning film "The King's Speech," and assisted actress Helena Bonham Carter in her interpretation of the Queen Mother character. On a less serious note, Skowronski said, in a 2012 episode of "The Colbert Report," Vickers advised host Stephen Colbert on how to prepare for the wedding of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Catherine "Kate" Middleton.
In support of the Hays-Heighe House, Vickers will give an original talk during the dinner, titled "All the Queen's Horses." The dinner, for which tickets are $75, will be held at the HCC Chesapeake Center Dining Rooms. Tickets, which are still available, can be purchased at http://tinyurl.com/AllQueensHorses or by phoning 443-412-2539.
A portion of each ticket will be designated as a charitable donation to the Harford Community College Foundation in support of the historic 1808 Hays-Heighe House. The mission of the Hays-Heighe House is to showcase the social and cultural history of Harford County through exhibits and inclusive programming.
Six rooms of the historic house are being used as galleries for the exhibition, according to Skowronski, who did the research, wrote the museum panels and collected all the photographs, and also oversaw final layout and design.
One gallery recounts highlights of Duryea's life and his legacy to the sport of horse racing, along with the exciting story of the American born Durbar II and his victory over Brakespear, the horse of King George V, at the 1914 Epsom Derby, just weeks before the outbreak of World War I.
It follows Durbar's journey from the United States, to France and then to England and, eventually, to Prospect Hill Farm near Bel Air, now the HCC campus, where the farm's owners, Robert and Anne Heighe, cared for the horse in his final year.
Durbar II was the second American-owned horse to win the prestigious Epsom Derby. His owner, Duryea, was a noted sportsman, thoroughbred horse owner and breeder and philanthropist, whose estate was ultimately bequeathed to Robert H. Heighe. Durbar spent his final days at Prospect Hill Farm and was interred on the grounds. The exact location of his burial is unknown, which adds to the mystique of his life and times and his Harford County connection, Skowronski said.
Other exhibition galleries relate information about the British Royal Family's passion for equestrian sports, then and now, the use of horses in World War I and the activity of British suffragettes at the start of the 20th century.
The exhibition also narrates the life of the late Humphrey S. Finney, British émigré, founding editor of The Maryland Horse magazine, and this year's recipient of the Robert and Ann Heighe Award for Excellence in Equestrian Journalism. Mr. Finney is the third recipient of the award, joining the late Joseph Kelly and the late William "Bill" Boniface, who received the award in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
This summer, the Hays-Heighe House acquired a photogravure portrait of Durbar II from Peggy McNamara, a riding instructor and trainer in Boston. McNamara inherited the portrait from her great aunt and uncle, the late Bridget Delaney Lang and Walter Michael Lang, of Watertown, Mass.
According to the Hays-Heighe House and HCC library Director Carol Allen, the Durbar picture is inscribed by and appears to be the work of Clarence Hailey, an artist, racehorse owner and bloodstock exporter who worked in Newmarket, England, from 1903 to 1933. It also bears a signature believed to be Duryea's.
Hours for "The Racehorse, the Royals, and the Writer: The Legacy of Herman Duryea" are Tuesdays from 1 to 3 p.m., Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon and first Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon. For more information, phone the Hays-Heighe House at 443-412-2539.
Along with the exhibition, the Hays-Heighe House will sponsor a dozen educational programs on topics such as World War I; developments in European and American art and literature from the period; the British suffragette movement, with living history interpretations of American suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul; and the foundation genetics behind thoroughbred horse breeding.
"We are creating a smorgasbord of offerings pertaining to the equestrian history of the Hays-Heighe House and the history, literature and art of the Edwardian era – a sort of 'Durbar meets Downton Abbey' mash-up," Allen said. "We think there will be something of interest for all sorts of people: British royalty followers, history buffs, readers of both contemporary and early modern literature, art lovers and horse riders and owners."