With the darkness of mid-winter and continual rain taking a toll on my mood, I approached my bookshelf in need of a sunny summer escape. Misty and Chincoteague were just the armchair travel ticket I needed. Like many young readers, I was captivated by the pony Misty and her home of Chincoteague the first time I read Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague. In 2016 I could not have been more excited to be able to finally visit Chincoteague Island and attend the annual Pony Penning festival, made famous by Henry’s book. While there I picked up the remaining three of Henry’s Misty books- Sea Star: Orphan of Chincoteague, Stormy, Misty’s Foal, and Misty’s Twilight. And they’ve been sitting on my To-Be-Read shelf ever since. Until now.
Starting with Misty of Chincoteague, this time I read straight through all four of the Chincoteague set. Although I’d only meant for some fun armchair travel, before I finished the fourth book, I realized I’d planned out a whole new trip to Chincoteague complete with activities I haven’t done before. I thought I’d share my next Chincoteague literary travel plans with you in case you too are looking for some summer literary travel inspiration.
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Misty of Chincoteague
Misty of Chincoteague is the story of siblings Paul and Maureen Beebe who are determined to purchase a certain elusive wild Assateague horse named Phantom during the next annual Chincoteague Pony Penning Festival. Paul, now just old enough to help with the pony roundup before the festival, is able to capture Phantom, but only because she has slowed down due to having her small daughter in tow. Paul names the small pony Misty as soon as he sets eyes on her and from that moment he and Maureen vow to purchase both Phantom and Misty during the festival auction. For a few years Paul works with Phantom to turn her into the greatest racehorse of the annual festival, but in the end the call of the wild is too great. Phantom returns to Assateague to run free like her forebears who landed on the island supposedly due to a great shipwreck. Misty, meanwhile, remains with the Beebe family.
Reading this book didn’t necessarily make me want to own my own horse, but it definitely made me want to experience riding a Chincoteague Pony! Chincoteague ponies are smaller than normal horses and because they feed in the salt marshes of Assateague they usually have round bellies. I wondered if I could find a place where I could ride one of these short, squat ponies, perhaps on one of the Assateague nature trails. After a little Googling, it seems to me the place to go for Chincoteague pony rides is the Chincoteague Pony Center.
While reading this book, I happened to read an article about a shipwreck buried in the sand on Assateague Island becoming uncovered thanks to a storm. First of all, who doesn’t like checking out a good old shipwreck? But it also was timely in relation to my reading, as a shipwreck is believed to be the origin of the Assateague pony herd. I hope next time I visit Assateague, I can find a way to do some shipwreck viewing.
Sea Star: Orphan of Chincoteague
Misty the Chincoteague pony is now nationally famous thanks to a certain book making her known to children all over the USA. The Beebe family is used to visitors stopping by their ranch to meet the famous horse, but nothing could have prepared them for a small plane to land in their garden bringing two filmmakers who ask to purchase Misty. Reluctantly, siblings Paul and Maureen agree to sell Misty in order to share her via a feature film with all her fans and to use the money to send their uncle to college. To distract her grandchildren from feeling broken-hearted by Misty’s departure, Grandma Beebe sends the pair on a foraging mission to Assateague Island. Just as Paul and Maureen beach their rowboat on Assateague, all thoughts of Misty are driven from their head. They find a small foal crying for help on the beach next to the body of its dead mother. The Beebe children swing into action. They know that if they don’t get this small pony with the shape of a sea star on its forehead fed soon, it too would not survive. The three return to the Beebe ranch, Sea Star needing the children just as much as they need him.
Assateague by Kayak
Last time I visited Chincoteague I enjoyed a sunset cruise around Assateague Island with Daisey’s Island Cruises, however Paul and Maureen visited Assateague via a small rowboat. A quick Google brings up no rowboat opportunities, but Assateague Adventures offers kayak rentals, which is close.
Assateague Lighthouse Tour
I could make up some excuse about the Beebe’s and the way Henry describes their view of the Assateague lighthouse, but honestly, seeing the inside of the lighthouse and climbing the stairs to the top has been on my bucket list since the first time I visited Chincoteague! Unfortunately, it’s been closed every time I tried to tour the inside!
Stormy, Misty’s Foal
We’re back at the Beebe Ranch and so is Misty. She’s returned and is ready to birth a foal any day now. However, the weather has other plans. A tremendous winter storm batters and floods Chincoteague. Most of the Chincoteague pony herd are drowned and residents are evacuated. As Misty’s stable begins to flood and the Beebes are told to take the next rescue helicopter out, they do the only thing they can think of to keep Misty safe. They put her in their kitchen. Luckily Misty holds out on birthing until the storm passes and the Beebes return home. Children from all over the USA write to the Beebes to ask if Misty made it through the storm and many suggest names for her new foal. From the names suggested, Paul and Maureen select the name Stormy.
After three books about the Beebe family, Grandpa Clarence, Grandma Ida, and their two young grandchildren Maureen and Paul, I couldn’t help wondering how closely Henry’s books aligned with the real history of Misty and the Beebes. According to this article, History of Misty of Chincoteague, while the Ash Wednesday storm of 1962 was real and Misty really did stay in a kitchen, it was not the kitchen of Clarence and Ida Beebe, but that of their son Ralph and his wife Jeanette. Unfortunately the house of Clarence and Ida burned down in 1996 and Misty’s old barn burned down in 2019, however you can still tour Ralph and Jeanette’s kitchen where Misty stayed for three days with the [Wednesday & Saturday] Chincoteague Step Through Time Tours.
NASA Wallops Flight Facility Tour
In the book, the Chincoteague residents are evacuated from the island and left to shelter at the Wallops facility. In the book Wallops is described as a previously abandoned facility, but today Wallops is a working NASA flight center with a visitor center. According to the website, the facility is currently closed to the public, but they are offering online video field trips for students! So if you can’t visit in person, perhaps you can still visit virtually until they reopen!
Misty’s Twilight takes place much later than the previous three books. By this time the youngsters who grew up reading about Misty in the book that made her famous have grown into adults with children of their own. Dr. Sandy Price, a single mom living in Florida with two kids and a horse ranch, is one of those Misty fans who’s had a life-long dream of owning one of Misty’s descendants. With her two kids and a pony trailer in tow, she could not be more excited to drive to Chincoteague for one of the annual Pony Penning Festivals during which the three of them plan to purchase one pony for each of them during the auction to bring home to their own ranch. While the two kids find the Chincoteague Ponies they want at the auction, Price is able to purchase a Misty descendant, a horse named Sunshine, from a local ranch. Later Sunshine gives birth to a foal who will go on to become known as Misty’s Twilight, a champion in horse dressage.
Pony Penning Festival
The way in which Henry described Dr. Price’s giddy excitement to attend the annual Chincoteague Pony Penning Festival was very familiar to my own excitement when I attended the festival. I know I said this was going to be a list of activities I haven’t done before, but after reading this book I just couldn’t help putting the festival back on the list to do again!
See Taxidermied Misty and Stormy at the Chincoteague Museum
When Misty finally passed away her hide was taxidermied and later Stormy’s hide was too. Although Price and her family do not visit the taxidermied pair of famous horses, there is a brief mention of them. Today Misty and Stormy are displayed at the Chincoteague Museum. Last time I visited Chincoteague I decided I did not want to see the taxidermied hides of the two famous horses. After reading all four of Henry’s books, however, I’m inclined to go see the display to see if the markings match the book description. Misty is said to have a map of the USA on her side.
Where To Stay
During my previous trip to Chincoteague I stayed at Miss Molly’s Inn, the inn where Marguerite Henry began writing Misty of Chincoteague. Having already stayed there, and found it to be an experience in itself, this time I would try the Channel Bass Inn Bed and Breakfast, where Henry’s characters Dr. Price and her children stayed during the festival. It’s in a great location as it’s on the main street and a short walk to the carnival grounds.
I don’t know when I’ll be able to next visit Chincoteague, but I hope you’ll find these ideas helpful if you’re able to make the trip yourself!
Have you read Misty of Chincoteague or any of Henry’s Misty books? Have you been to Chincoteague? Do you want to go? What activities have I left out? Tell me in the comments below!
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