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A Mule, A Mirror and Other Disasters

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The fight started in a Blacksmith shop in Accomac in 1881 and it was a rip snorter.

It seems that a farmer had brought in his mule, "Ol’ Bart" to get new shoes. W. J. Ayres, the town blacksmith, didn’t anticipate any trouble, even though Ol’ Bart was known to be a cantankerous cuss. So Ayres fired up the furnace and pounded away, forging the first shoe to just the right shape.

Meanwhile the mule was snorting, shifting from foot to foot, acting like he was tormented by horse-flies. Still, Mr. Ayres just felt it was the nature of mules not to be as reasonable as other animals.

So, having the shoe shaped just right, he went over to Ol’ Bart, lifted the hoof, and slid the shoe into place. What happened in the next few seconds the blacksmith had little memory of, except that the mule jerked away, kicked up both heels against the building and sent a piece of siding flying across the street.

The mule then went wild and kicked and lurched around inside the shop until dust was flying and blacksmith Ayres was cornered, caught between the bucking mule and the door. All the while pieces of his shop were being dislodged and sent flying.

Once Ayres tried to duck under the flailing animal but was bumped back by the heaving underbelly. Finally, even though the mule was still kicking up the dust, Mr. Ayres managed to slip out the door. By this time he was as wrung up as the mule and, rummaging around, found what a spectator called a "war club". It could well have been a 2x4 dislodged in the fracas.

The paper reported that Ayres was "admonishing the mule in an unkind manner" while moving in with a piece of board. Ol’ Bart probably saw the fire in his adversary’s eyes and calmed down considerably. In fact "The fight just went right out of him."

The battle between man and mule lasted 20 minutes. Bystanders later reported that Mr. Ayres was declared the winner of the contest in two rounds.

What with mules and other things, the year was not a particularly peaceful one on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

About the same time as the man-mule fight occurred, a magician arrived in Accomac to delight and confound the crowds with his slight-of-hand.

The gentleman was reported to have the finest kind of mirror in an expensively decorated frame so as to cause "ghosts" to appear to be walking out of it. It was reported that the townsfolk were quite pleased with the show put on by this "prestidigitatuer". It may have been the same Professor Weston, who on other occasions delighted the locals with his magic.

But the quiet and refined town of Accomac, except for crazy mules, was poor preparation for the Professor’s next stop in Pungoteague where he "came to grief" in his first show.

It seems some railroad workers, employed on the new line through Virginia’s Eastern Shore had taken on a bit too much of ardent spirits, and were in a festive mood as they stumbled into the little hamlet of Pungoteague.

The show was going full force and the professor was happily conjuring up "ghosts" in abundance from his magic mirror, when one of the inebriated workers became quite upset. Seeing ghosts coming out of the mirror, the fellow pulled a pistol from his pocket and blasted away at the ghosts, sending the Pungoteague crowd scattering for cover while shards of the mirror rained down on them.

"The mirror was a very costly one", a news story reported "and the only means the poor man had to eke out a precarious living." Fortunately, during the next week, the people of Pungoteague took up a collection to give the gentleman enough to rebuild the mirror.

The railway men had disappeared in the confusion and were not seen again in Pungoteague.

Still, things were unusually stirred up in the two local counties that year.

Mr. Thomas Tipton of Northampton stepped into his buggy one cool morning and gave his horse a tap of leather for a short trot into town. The horse responded about like the mule in Accomac, taking off like a racer rounding the home stretch.

Bouncing around in the buggy and trying to calm the mare, Tipton only managed to turn it in the wrong direction. The horse jumped over Tipton’s formerly contented cow in one leap, pulling the buggy behind her. In an instant the Tipton family’s source of milk was terminated by the buggy passing over its neck. At the height of the bounce, Tipton was thrown out and caromed off the belly up cow, but was fortunately stopped in his headlong trajectory by his front teeth making contact with the ground.

Expensive dental work was reportedly required though, to repair the resulting damage to Tipton’s front teeth. The horse was uninjured.

Still Thomas Tipton got off quite easily compared to another member of the family.

It seems that one dark night this gentlemen had placed the chamber pot on the stairs of his house and left it there by mistake when he went to bed. During the night he decided to go down stairs, planted his foot firmly in the deep tin pot, and did several 360 degree spiraling turns in various unique positions.

Tipton was not seriously hurt, but probably wished he had stepped on a cow instead.

Probably the last straw for the year was a serenade being given a local gentleman on Chincoteague on his wedding night. A salesman, sitting amidst the group at the soiree, happened to spill a cigar ash on a can of gunpowder in the corner.

The paper reported the resultant explosion, though quite colorful and spectacular in retrospect ended the party and sent the cigar smoking gentleman to the hospital.

There is little wonder, with folk feeling the world had gone awry, that the local paper had to print in its December 1881 issue:

"The constant loud-mouthed profanity and vulgarisms upon the public streets of this town call for reprobation. We have reason to know that hereafter both will be suppressed by the strong hand of the law."

There is no record of just what blacksmith Ayres thought when the mule kicked out the side of his shed; or of what the Professor thought as he tried to dodge bullets; or what the Tiptons said in the cow and the chamber pot incidents.

These gentlemen were self-controlled people, but human nature can be stressed to the breaking point. Responses may have been a bit like nuclear reaction, beyond the ability of the strong hand of the law to control.

Like, maybe, gunpowder at a wedding feast.

By A. Parker Barnes

Printed here with the kind permission of his wife, Virginia.


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