‘Misty of Chincoteague’ ranch preserved with sale
Eighty years ago when author Marguerite Henry visited Chincoteague Island, she was inspired by the wild horses that roam the beaches.
From that came the children's classic story, "Misty of Chincoteague," that tells the story of Paul and Maureen, two kids growing up on the ranch and raising their pony, Misty.
Over the years, all but 10 acres of the storied ranch has been portioned, sold off and redeveloped.
And last week, those last 10 acres became property of the Museum of Chincoteague Island for preservation and restoration.
“Ultimately, it's not going to look dramatically different than it would have looked in the 1950s when Grandma and Grandpa (Beebe) were out here, taking care of the ponies,” said Museum director Cindy Faith.
Siblings Billy and Barbara Beebe owned the ranch together and grew up there. Barbara, who is 84 years old, moved out to the then-isolated ranch with her parents and brothers during her senior year of high school.
“I told them back there, ‘Have you lost your mind?’”
A developer offered to buy the land from the Beebe siblings at the beginning of 2023. They’d gotten offers for years as the island’s real estate heated up — but they’re older now, looking at rising care costs for themselves and tough maintenance on the ranch property.
They wanted to make sure the land would be preserved. Barbara said she promised their mother that she would take care of the ranch and the two famous ponies.
“It does mean a whole lot to a lot of people,” Billy Beebe said of the ranch. “Especially when they are coming up … you know, the parents buy the Misty book, they start reading it, and maybe fantasizing that they're Paul and Maureen.”
Faith and the Museum of Chincoteague have maintained a relationship with the Beebe family for years. The museum actually houses the taxidermied remains of Misty, a palomino pinto, and her foal Stormy.
Misty died in 1972. But she’s endured as a symbol of the island for as long as her book’s been in print. The annual Pony Swim Henry wrote about still happens every summer.
Faith led the effort to buy and preserve the ranch for the past five months.
“Now the work begins,” Faith said.
“We're going to tidy up the property, get it back to where it was,” she said. “Like an open pasture back there. And how beautiful will that be, for these ponies to be able to kind of explore the whole area?”
The campaign to raise the money to buy the ranch was a long shot.
Faith started asking for donations — in the museum, online, everywhere. Nothing showed up in her post office box.
“And one day, about three weeks in, we had a notice in our mailbox that there were too many pieces of mail for them to fit in there,” Faith said.
Suddenly, support was pouring in. People worldwide love the Misty stories and they wanted to help.
“Some of them had very small donations, some had bigger donations, but they all came with this letter,” Faith said. “People were just they weren't just giving $5, they were giving $5 and their heartfelt reason why. And that's something really special.”
The museum needed $625,000 to buy the ranch to match that original developer’s offer. They got it.
What was once hundreds of acres of farmland standing along a road is now ten acres in the middle of a busy subdivision. Four ponies, two cats and a goat live here. Billy Beebe takes care of them.
One of the animals, a Chincoteague pony, Pearl, can “shake hands” like Misty did when she was alive.
Misty's direct descendant, Drizzle, can stick out her tongue on command. One of Billy Beebe’s grandkids taught her to do that.
And Bill the goat gets hired out to neighbors to scare pests like geese off their property. He'll work for horse treats.
Billy said he’ll stay at the ranch to take care of the ponies that live there — Drizzle, Angel, Pearl and 35-year-old Mercedes.
“I don't want to stop being busy and just sit back,” he said. “I'll be busy over here because I want to be working with the museum to help take care of the place all the time. Fixing the fences, mending the fences — it is a lot of work.”