A Cautionary Tale: Don’t Bring the Horse Into the House


I love to hear old Newport stories. The way things used to be, where prominent old businesses were once located, the colorful characters who lived here, and what kinds of things they did. It gives me a deeper sense of the rich history of Newport and why it’s such a special town not only to its residents but to the rest of the world, too. For example, did you know that Newport, RI, is the birthplace of the longest-continuously manufactured American fragrance in the country? Caswell Massey, the first cologne and soap company in America, was founded in 1752 by Dr. William Hunter, right here in Newport, RI. Or that Michel Felice Cornè, who moved to Newport in 1822, is credited with introducing the tomato to the United States? Until then, it was widely regarded as poisonous! 


The HBO production, The Gilded Age, has sparked some renewed curiosity about Newport’s involvement in this decadent era. While the first season is set in New York City in the late 1800s, many of the interior scenes of the characters’ homes were filmed in some of Newport’s fabled mansions. A few scenes show characters visiting Newport, including at the International Tennis Hall of Fame and The Ledges seaside house located on Ocean Drive. Season two, much of which was filmed in Newport last summer, will show even more of the beloved City-by-the Sea since one of the characters moves to Newport. Some of our local friends were lucky enough to perform as extras, and we loved the feeling of excitement around town as film crews shot scenes at the Tennis Hall of Fame, The Breakers, Marble House, and other iconic Newport locations. 


Seeing a bygone Newport come to life gives us just a glimpse into the past. While the plot of The Gilded Age may be fiction, watching the characters on screen with Newport as a backdrop reminds me of the history, values, and stories that make this city what it is today.


We are also lucky enough to have some stories passed down by family members. Below, I share one told to me by my father-in-law, a lifelong Newport resident. His family lived and worked in Newport for generations, and he often entertained us with memorable tales about life here. While it takes place in an entirely different part of town, it’s rooted in the same bygone past of another story I shared on this blog about one of Newport’s Gilded Age families, Elizabeth Parke Firestone.


Like many historic towns, Newport, RI, has a rich oral history. My father-in-law, the late John Hogan, was a great storyteller.  In addition to being a lifelong Newporter, he worked for many years as a docent in the mansions. Tales about Newport families – wealthy ones and everyday people – would just spill out of him whenever we visited. I wish he had been a blogger because many of those stories will be lost over time. Here’s one of his more memorable urban legends:

Sometime in the last mid-century, a family lived in a big, beautiful house on Old Beach Road in the Kay Catherine section of Newport.  They had a barn outback where the family horse resided.  One exceptionally cold Christmas Eve, the family took pity on the creature and decided he would be happier in the house. The children ran out to the barn and led the horse through the front door. As the unsuspecting animal stepped into the entry foyer, all four legs descended through the lovely hardwood floors leaving him suspended by his belly.  

After several unsuccessful attempts to extricate the poor beast, the family called the Newport Fire Department. They eventually managed to lift him out using a canvas sling. Perhaps the family was inspired by Doris Duke’s habit of bringing her camels inside when the weather got stormy. Legend has it there was some eggnog involved, and the horse was fine.


If you remember this tale or have another Newport story, share it with us! Drop us a note at info@hoganri.com. Drop us a note or give us a call at (401) 680-6588 to learn more about real estate opportunities in Newport County.