“What is the worst that could happen?” my wife asked me on the morning of the hunting demonstration. Visions of headlines such as, “Dozens hurt as horse goes beserk,” “Dozens hurt as pack of foxhounds goes beserk,” “Dozens hurt as anti-hunt protesters go beserk,” flitted through my head. It also occurred to me that perhaps no one at all would show up and we would be talking only to the crickets and mosquitos. Finally, I imagined our hounds running mute and the crowd wondering what it was supposed to sound like, looking at each other in embarrassment.
Staff explained the basics of foxhunting to the audience at the Shelburne Museum. Christa Kemp photo.
These fears filled my mind the day that Green Mountain Hounds (VT) would be giving a hunt demonstration at Shelburne Museum. The museum, a nationally important showcase for Americana, was the brainchild of Electra Havemeyer Webb. A hugely popular tourist destination near Burlington, Shelburne Museum is also a site for concerts and special events, and occupies a fond place in the hearts of Vermonters. Through the good offices of Karen Webb (hunt member, Shelburne Museum guide and wife of Electra’s great-nephew Seward Webb), Green Mountain Hounds had been asked to present a foxhunting demonstration in conjunction with an exhibit of hunting and fishing art.
While Electra Havemeyer Webb is justly famous for founding the Shelburne Museum, it may be less well known that she was an avid foxhunter and that her husband, J. Watson Webb, was the founder and Master of the Shelburne Foxhounds. Mr. Webb ran the Shelburne Foxhounds as a drag hunt from 1903 until 1911, and after that pursued wily Reynard, hunting out of the family estate now known as Shelburne Farms. A photo from 1931 shows the entire Webb family and guests, mounted for hunting, and surrounded by their foxhounds. Now in August 2017 we would bring the sport back to Shelburne, if only for a few moments.
Garbed in full formal wear more appropriate to November than August, we found that nearly 80 people had gathered to see us. The venue turned out to be perfect – a grassy lawn sloping down to a brushy scrubland. Whippers-in were posted at the extremes, and after some introductory remarks the hounds were cast, wonderfully exploded into voice, and disappeared into the brush. Even better, they fell silent - a minute passed - and then they broke into cry again, finally emerging onto the lawn, and circling the audience to catch the “fox” with the drag. Spontaneous applause burst from the audience.
The best was yet to come, as the members of the hunt and the hounds mingled and chatted with the audience. One gentleman told me that the event was a brilliant accomplishment for the Museum. I agree wholly, and it was also a wonderful moment of ambassadorship for our sport. Many thanks to the Museum staff that made it possible.
For more information about the Shelburne Museum, visit their webpage here.