The cowgirl, the old Colts and a pony named Dixie

WAY BACK WHEN

back story

November 03, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun reporter

Paul J. Travers remembered the first time he saw the Colts' mascot, Carolyn Clark, and her Welsh pony, Dixie, cantering around the cinder warning track at old Memorial Stadium.

"It was 1960. I used to go to Colts games with the Southeast Police Boys' Club. We'd meet on Bank Street carrying our lunches in a brown paper bag and then board a school bus for the trip to the stadium," Travers recalled yesterday.

"Once there, we'd take our seats in the far left field bleachers way up high where we spent most of our time looking at Carolyn and the cars in the parking lot. I guess you could say it was an infatuation with an older girl," he said, laughing.

"We used to look at the girl dressed in the Colt uniform and her horse and think, `Wow, what a great job, and how did she get it?' And there we were, stuck up in the bleachers, while she was down on the field," he said.

Carolyn was born in 1949 in Charles Town, W.Va., in the jockey's room at the local hospital, where the track physician attended her mother.

She was the daughter of Willie Clark, a leading jockey, and Dorothy Cecelia Clark, a thoroughbred trainer, who tended to horses at the family's Green Hill Farm in Upperco.

She began riding when she was 2 and had her own horse by the time she was 2 1/2 . During her last year on the Eastern pony show circuit in 1959, the veteran rider had "collected enough ribbons to cover her bedroom door, plus plaques, trophies and $800," reported The Sun Magazine in a 1961 profile.

From 1956 to 1961, Carolyn led horses at Pimlico onto the track for the Preakness Day Powder Puff Derby, and appeared at area parades with her horse pulling a vintage surrey.

Victoria C. Cannen, then 15, who was riding an earlier Dixie, took a tumble and cut her chin during a December 1958 Colts-49ers game. She was replaced next season by Carolyn and her Dixie, whose real name was Crayneld Starlight.

"To Baltimore football fans, Carolyn Clark and her pony, Dixie, mean a Colts touchdown or field goal. To Colt opponents, the sight of the pony on its way around the park is an irritating symbol of another Baltimore score," observed The Sun Magazine.

Carolyn, who earned $20 per game, sometimes was pelted with crumpled programs, paper cups, fruit, sandwiches and even wedges of pie from unhappy visiting fans.

"The symbol of Colt superiority is a fat little white horse, undoubtedly fed on crab cakes and beer, that bounds around the field each time Baltimore scores," wrote a Philadelphia sportswriter after the Colts' 1959 championship victory over the New York Giants.

Preparations for getting Dixie ready for a Sunday game began the day before, with grooming and a bath, followed by a sponging off early Sunday morning. Then Carolyn would braid and decorate the mane with blue-and-white pom-poms that she had made, and finally finished by fashioning the tail into French plaits.

At the beginning of the 1964 season, she told an Evening Sun reporter that "I'm ready and waiting to do it again this year."

Carolyn was 16 when she was killed in a car accident Oct. 11, 1965.

She was a passenger in a car, along with her mother, when the driver, Carl Ronneberg, 20, of Plainfield, N.J., fell asleep at the wheel, and slammed into a bridge abutment on U.S. 40 near Aberdeen.

"I always wondered what happened to her and began doing some research," said Travers, 56, a Parkton resident whose earlier books include The Patapsco: Baltimore's River of History, The Flight of the Shadow Drummer and Eyewitness to Infamy: An Oral History of Pearl Harbor.

His work resulted in the recently published The Cowgirl and the Colts: A Story of the 1st Female NFL Mascot, a work of historical fiction based on Carolyn's life, Dixie, Colts games and other period events.

"The real challenge was taking snippets of her life and working them into a historical narrative," Travers said.

In the course of his research, Travers managed to locate Carolyn's father, who had retired in 1991 -- after a 30-year career and 10,630 races -- living in Charles Town.

"Every time he talked about Carolyn, tears would stream down his face. He was very emotional," Travers said of her father, who died a year ago.

In 2005, Greg Schwalenberg, a curator at the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, told a Sun reporter that a woman donated a horse blanket that was stitched with a horse jumping through a goal post. She had found it at a flea market.

Even though the letters in tackle twill had been removed, its "shadow remained," reported The Sun, enough evidence for Schwalenberg to tell the donor of its probable connection to Dixie.

As for the fate of Dixie, former Colt halfback Alex Hawkins told The Sun in 1982 that the old horse had died that year from "lack of exercise."

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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