Wednesday, November 12, 2008

tales from equestrian epicenters

Long before Robyn Hitchcock and Alfred Hitchcock there was Thomas Hitchcock, the equestrian mover and shaker. Late in the 19th century, Thomas Hitchcock jump-started American polo on the long island east of New York City; he also helped jump-start thoroughbred horse racing with his friend August Belmont, who built the Belmont Park racetrack, curiously, in Elmont, NY. TH based his horsey operations in Old Westbury and spent equally horsey winters in Aiken, South Carolina. All of these places were equestrian epicenters along the lines of Lexington, Kentucky; however not everybody thinks of Nassau County, Long Island as an equestrian epicenter because it has been so sprawled over since the polo era.

The son, Thomas Hitchcock Jr., lead a similarly distinguished life. Practically born with a polo mallet in hand, he inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald's Gatsby-grudging character Tom Buchanan. In World War One he served in the Lafayette Escadrille, and as a French-commanded American fighter pilot he survived getting shot down by the Germans, from whom he escaped by walking to Switzerland -- sort of a proto-John McCain with a better ending. He later married Margaret Mellon, the sister of Larimer Mellon Jr., the doctor who founded the Hopital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti. TH Jr. also worked for the now folded Lehman Brothers firm up until World War Two, when he re-joined the Air Force and died in an aviation accident in England.


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