CHINCOTEAGUE, Va. (WAVY) – The home of the most famous of Chincoteague Island’s beloved ponies, Misty, will live on as a museum thanks to donations “from every corner of the country” and beyond.
As of Monday, more than $450,000 had been raised to save the Beebe Ranch, which still includes the original home where Misty and her foal Stormy rode out the Ash Wednesday storm of 1962 — in the kitchen, that is.
Aside from just saving the physical history, it’s also become a refreshing reminder in the pony-centric Virginia town of just how important the 1947 book “Misty of Chincoteague” and subsequent series from author Marguerite Henry means to people of all ages.
The book “…is still one of the most sought-after books for kids about horses…” said Cindy Faith, whose Museum of Chincoteague Island will buy the ranch through the fundraiser.
The ranch sits on an unassuming plot of land on Ridge Road at the southern tip of the island. Just take a right at Maddox Boulevard after getting off the causeway, cruise past the carnival grounds and the institution that is J&B Subs and hook a left at Beebe Road.
The Beebe home (no, not the one used in the 1961 Misty movie that’s just down the Eastern Shore at Folly Creek) sits at the front of the property, with a few pens out back for the ponies that live at the ranch (two of which are Misty descendants). There’s also the unofficial welcoming committee otherwise known as Fireball the cat, a friendly orange tabby that likes to lounge in the shade.
The property used to stretch more than 100 acres in total at that end of the island, but over the years, the Beebe grandparents’ “boatload of kids” sold off their different parcels, bringing the ranch to about 1/10th of its former size, Faith said.
“What we have now is the last 10.3 acres of the ranch, on this portion, Misty spent most of her life … Misty lived her whole adult life here, so this is the part we want to save,” Faith said.
That final piece proved to be too much for the Beebes, including 69-year-old Billy “King” Beebe, who grew up with Misty. He opened the ranch up as a museum back in 1999 after previous efforts to sell the property fell through.
“We’re actually really excited about it because now people can still come. I’m getting older and my sister is getting older, and it’s harder to take care of the horses, but the horses will stay here on the ranch, so that’s good news,” Beebe said. “But we are so excited future generations will get to see this, grandchildren will get to be able to see it.”
This time, instead of putting the property on the open market, the Beebes reached out to Faith with the hope that the museum would buy it and preserve it for future generations to come. They eventually came to an agreement to sell it for $625,000.
“I will say it’s a coveted piece of property. It is an island, and there’s very few pieces of property available for development. They’ve been offered much more money than we’ve agreed upon. Since we have talked to them, developers have come knocking on their door, but they are like from a bygone time where a handshake and your word actually mean something, and they are sticking to the sale with the museum,” Faith said.
Still, that price tag was a lot for the nonprofit.
“The museum was interested, but initially was concerned that we don’t have the funds ourselves to do that,” Faith said.
So they reached out to the public, and the response was incredible.
As of Monday, about 10 weeks into the fundraiser, the museum had raised more than $450,000 of their $625,000 goal, through a mix of individual donations and local fundraisers, an auction from Breyer Model Horses that garnered more than $12,875, and not to mention a matching grant up to $100,000 from local philanthropist David Landsberger to encourage more donations.
But money isn’t the only gift the museum has received. It is the letters and other feedback that have come with the donations that have been truly special, Faith said.
“The message is always the same … we might be getting $5, we might be getting $500, but they all come with a letter that just tells us to keep at it, don’t give up, and that ‘Misty of Chincoteague’ was a very special book in their lives, it either was the first book they ever read or the book that led them to love horses,” Faith said.
Faith said “there wasn’t a dry eye in our office” when they read one woman’s letter in particular.
“The book helped this woman through a very difficult time in her childhood, and she kept the book and reread it over the course of her adult life. … She said, ‘I’m making a donation, $15 is all I can give, but I just want you to know I read these books every few years and it’s like revisiting an friend, and I just want you to save the ranch for people like me.’ … If that doesn’t keep you motivated, I don’t know what would. … This really is a special place,” Faith said.
When the museum officially reaches its goal, the hope is to rebuild Misty’s old barn, which burned after a major fire on the property in 2019.
They also want to be able to host even more educational events such as classes and tours.
Guide Loree Sole’, who’s been leading tours for about two years now, says guests learn about the history of the ponies, how the fire department received ownership of them and more before heading over to the ranch, where Billy Beebe picks up the second half of the tour.
That’s where pony lovers get to meet Misty descendants Nightmist’s Little Angel (Angel for short), her daughter Angel’s Little Drizzle (Drizzle likes to do tricks) and another horse friend who’s currently boarding at the ranch.
“Every single check is important to us,” Faith said.