Napoleon's Horse: World's Longest Mane
Marion pushes popcorn. "Popcorn Capital" banners fly from the city lampposts. Marion's Heritage Hall contains a Popcorn Museum, which claims to have the world's largest collection of old-time popcorn wagons and peanut roasters.
But Heritage Hall has other things to offer. For example, down in the basement is an exhibit devoted to Marion resident Warren Harding, 29th President of the United States. There's an out-of-place church altar to the President (which, for the purposes of satisfying donors, the museum is obliged to display) made cheerier by the presence of a stained-glass window of Laddie-Boy, Harding's dog. Along with campaign ribbons and White House china, the exhibit includes several pennies that were crushed by Harding's funeral train. His big tomb is around the corner at Delaware Ave. and Vernon Heights Blvd.
The under-appreciated star of Heritage Hall, however, is the mounted carcass of Prince Imperial, the horse with the world's longest mane. He once belonged to Napoleon. Not the Napoleon, but the famous Napoleon's nephew, Emperor Napoleon III. Prince Imperial was also the official title of Napoleon III's only child and heir, which is a little weird.
Napoleon's horse wound up in Marion when a local livestock breeder named Jacob Howser traveled to France and bought him for $3,000. That was a lot of money in 1868, but Howser made his investment back by exhibiting the horse with the ridiculously long mane at fairs and horse shows across the region. The horse was once billed as, "The Greatest Living Curiosity of This or Any Other Age." He was credited with having the longest forelock (seven feet) and mane (nine feet, ten inches) in the world. His hair was so long that it dragged on the ground. It was braided, but even the braids had to be looped.
Prince Imperial died in 1887, but Howser saw no reason for that to end the horse's money-making career. He had the horse mounted by A. G. Ward -- the same professor who had mounted Jumbo the elephant -- and kept exhibiting him. In the off-season Howser kept Prince Imperial in his family living room. When Howser died, his sons exhibited the horse, and when they died their sons did the same. Jake Howser, Jacob's great-grandson, told his sons to burn the horse when he died, but instead they sold Prince Imperial to another local family, who cleaned him up, put him on wheels, and dragged him through local parades.
Prince Imperial (the horse) actually outlived Prince Imperial (the heir) by nine years. In a sense, the Napoleon dynasty ended in Marion, Ohio. We'll drink a toast to that with a champagne glass of popcorn.
(Note: The folks at Heritage Hall are good-natured about their exhibits, and really know the area. They helped us find the Grave of a Man Killed by a Tree.)