The barn on the Virginian Eastern Shore horse ranch that inspired children’s book author Marguerite Henry’s beloved Misty of Chincoteague series burned to the ground late Tuesday night.
Six different emergency fire units responded to the Chincoteague ranch blaze which had flames reaching heights of 30 feet Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company spokeswoman Denise Bowden told Delware Online. The ranch’s owners, Billy King Beebe and his wife, were not on the property during the event, but several of their animals, including four horses — two of which are descendants of the real life Misty — were. None of the animals or any emergency responders were injured, though two neighboring homes on the North side of the barn experienced non-extensive exterior damage.
The Inquirer was unable to reach Bowden for comment before publication.
The ranch and its most famous equestrian resident, the palomino mare Misty, were the basis for Henry’s popular series about two recently orphaned children who purchase a wild Chincoteague pony mare and her philly, Misty, to race in the yearly Pony Penning Day. The book is a best-seller and Newbery Honor winner that inspired several sequels.
Many of the series’ stories were inspired by real events Henry either experienced or learned of on the ranch. Several of the characters were also named after real members of the Beebe family, including Misty of Chincoteague’s orphans Paul and Maureen, who were in real life the grandchildren of the domesticated Misty’s original owner Clarence Beebe.
In a recent Facebook post, the family shared the handful of personal losses they had experienced in the last few months, including the death of Maureen Beebe Hursch, who’s name Henry agreed to use in her books to encourage Clarence to sell Misty to her.
“Certainly loss of the barn here is of no comparison to the loss of these two family members, but the little barn here that burned last night was loved by the entire family," the Beebes wrote. “Every single family member has memories in that little barn... many as little children growing up here and some of us seeing it only as adults.”
The message was received with a number of condolences, with locals and fans of the series taking to the comments to share their sadness over the loss of what Bowden described as a place where “our history lived and breathed.” Matt DesJardins, who co-runs Misty’s Heaven, a website dedicated to the real Misty of Chincoteague and her descendants, described the community response as “devastated.”
A frequent stop of diehard Misty fans, the private property opens to tourists during the summer, and once housed a museum that featured taxidermied preservations of Misty and her foal Stormy. These preservations, in addition to other Beebe family memorabilia, were donated in 2010. The small ranch housed a living Misty in both her early and latter years, after she was brought back by Henry to the ranch in 1957.
The property is particularly popular during Pony Penning Week, an annual Chincoteague event held during the last week of July. Pony Penning involves a wild pony swim, where feral horses are raced across the Assateague Island channel during a time of minimal tidal movement before being herded. In 1946, Henry came to witness the traditional event — which dates back to 1925 and has historically raised money for The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department — to get inspiration for the story that ultimately became Misty of Chincoteague.