'The Horse of the Century' goes home to Florida

Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Tribune photo by Clint Confehr The life-size statue of Midnight Sun by sculptor Bradley Cooley is pictured strapped to a flatbed trailer, ready to leave the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association on North Ellington Parkway, where it has been on display for almost 10 years.

By Karen Hall

Staff Writer

The life-size statue of Midnight Sun, the most famous Walking Horse stallion ever, left Lewisburg on Valentine's Day to return to its original home at Dixie Plantation, Greenville, Fla.

The statue was on loan to Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association, and stood in the Commemorative Garden in front of its building on North Ellington Parkway for almost 10 years.

"The Association has been very fortunate to display this magnificent statue for the past decade. We are sad to see it go, but we are grateful to have had the opportunity to share it with Tennessee Walking Horse enthusiasts from around the world," stated TWHBEA President Tracy Boyd.

The statue spent the weekend on the trailer in Nashville, said Dixie Plantation Superintendent Randy Floyd.

The driver left Nashville Sunday for the 480-mile trip to Florida. He took a break along the way, said Floyd, and timed his arrival at the Plantation for early Monday morning.

A crane was waiting, ready to move the statue off the trailer and into its permanent place.

"He's home at Dixie," said Floyd Monday morning, confirming the transfer had gone off without a hitch.

Continental Machinery Movers of Nashville provided the truck and trailer, driven away from TWHBEA headquarters by Fred Daniel.

Nick Fahrlender of AmQuip Crane, Nashville, said there were no problems lifting and moving the statue and its rose-colored granite base from where it was to the flatbed tractor trailer truck.

"The horse cooperated. He didn't buck, kick or bite. He stood there like a statue." Fahrlender joked.

It would be hard to find a horse more important to the Walking Horse breed than Midnight Sun.

Foaled in 1940, the stallion's original name was Joe Lewis Wilson, and he was an unpromising ugly duckling as a young horse.

In 1944, Wirt and Alex Harlin of Franklin bought the horse and renamed him Midnight Sun. Midnight Sun was the first winner of the World Grand Championship at the 1945 Celebration, and repeated the feat in 1946. From then until his death from colic in 1965, Midnight Sun bred up to 100 mares per year, spreading his influence all over the Walking Horse breed. The majority of Celebration champions have Midnight Sun somewhere in their pedigrees, often multiple times. The inscription on his tombstone says simply, "The Horse of the Century."

At the Harlinsdale Farm dispersal sale in 1956, Midnight Sun was purchased by Eleanor Livingston and her daughter Geraldine for $50,000, but instead of taking him to Dixie Plantation they left him at Harlinsdale to continue his stud career, and that is where he is buried.

The City of Franklin bought the 200-acre Harlinsdale Farm, where Midnight Sun is buried, for $8 million in 2004. The sale was made with the understanding that the property would be developed as a passive park while maintaining and protecting its Walking Horse history. Activities at the park include walking, picnicing, and fishing.

In 2009 General's Major General was buried near Midnight Sun at Harlinsdale. "MG" was Walking Horse Sire of the Year in 2001 and 2003 and was the father of the highest-selling Walking Horse ever, Jose Jose.

Geraldine Livingston commissioned the statue of Midnight Sun from Florida sculptor Bradley Cooley and gave it to her mother as a birthday present in 1972. It stood in the gardens of Dixie Plantation until it was sent on loan to TWHBEA.

The Geraldine C. M. Livingston Foundation became active when Geraldine Livingston died in 1994 and received IRS approval as a 501(c)(3) Private Operating Foundation. It is governed by a board of trustees. The foundation has placed over 9,000 acres of the plantation under conservation easement, thereby ensuring that the land will never be developed or sold. The foundation has also continued the Livingston tradition of enhancing the habitat for wild quail and hosting bird dog hunting trials. The Foundation supports and encourages education and research in the fields of forestry, agriculture, and ecology through grants and cooperative research projects.

Dixie Plantation's 14,000 square foot Greek revival mansion, designed by famed architect John Russell Pope and built between 1938 and 1940, is being restored by the Foundation.