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 timey popcorn wagons and peanut roasters. But unless you're a collector, or really like the smell of popcorn, it's about as exciting as a room filled with old juke boxes.
Heritage Hall has other things to offer. There's a display about local beauty queens, including Mary Ellen Withrew, who became the 40th Treasurer of the U.S. and got her signature on the 1993 dollar bill.
Down in the basement is an exhibit devoted to Warren Harding, 29th President of the U.S. and a Marion resident. There's an out-of-place church altar to the dead president (which, for the purposes of pleasing donors, the museum has to display) made cheerier by the presence of a stained-glass window of Laddie-Boy, Harding's pet dog. Along with campaign ribbons and White House china, the exhibit includes several pennies that were crushed by the Harding funeral train. His big tomb is around the corner at Delaware Ave. and Vernon Heights Blvd.
Relegated to third place behind the popcorn and the president -- a mistake in our opinion -- is the stuffed 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 ended up in Marion when a local livestock breeder named Jacob Howser traveled to France and bought him for $3,000. That was a considerable chunk of change in 1869, but Howser made his money back. The horse with the ridiculously long mane was exhibited at fairs and horse shows across the U.S., billed as "The Greatest Living Curiosity of This or Any Other Age." He was credited with having the longest bangs (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 1888, but Howser saw no reason to end the horse's money-making career. He had the horse stuffed by A. G. Ward -- the same professor who stuffed 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 man) by nine years. In a sense, then, the Napoleon dynasty died in Marion, Ohio, although it's unlikely that the French would have tolerated being ruled by a dreadlocked horse.
(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.)