This story-line has an incredible cast of characters including eighty inner-city kids from Oakland and San Francisco who went on a field-trip they’re unlikely to ever forget; Paige Peterson, a famous watercolorist; author Christopher Cerf; and most importantly, “Blackie, the Horse Who Stood Still”. Only a passion for kids, for books and for history could have brought all these people together.
The story began of course with Blackie, an utterly amazing horse whose story paralleled the growth of California. Blackie performed in rodeos, worked at Yosemite and was the first horse to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. He retired to an unfenced meadow overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Everyone who lived in or visited Marin County from 1938 to1966 remembers the gentle swayed back horse who stood still while generations of children petted and fed him. When he died, the entire community rallied and created The Tiburon Peninsula Foundation to save Blackie’s meadow and create a fitting memorial. Albert Guibara was commissioned to create a life size bronze statue of Blackie.
Well the statue was built,and if you stop and stare
Out at Blackie’s old pasture,
you’ll feel he’s still there…
He fought against change;
now his field never will…
Thanks to Blackie,
the wonderful horse who stood still.
Larry Smith, president of the TPF, was there when Blackie arrived in 1938 and when he died in 1966. He was instrumental in creating the park and commissioning the statue. Larry and The Tiburon Peninsula Foundation felt the Blackie story had relevance for a larger audience and called on Paige Peterson, a well-known watercolorist and long time Blackie fan. She immediately asked her friend, Christopher Cerf, for help in writing the story. This created a huge job researching Blackie’s history and creating a theme for the book. How do you write an interesting story about a horse that hardly moved for 38 years? Together they created a beautiful book, a real labor of love. It is a large, 60 page book with 45 full color illustrations, that teaches children the themes of observing nature, preserving the environment and the power of community action.
The word quickly spread ’bout the new horse in town
And from all ’round the county young kids headed down
To the pasture where Blackie could always be found,
Standing still, like a rock, on the same patch of ground.
Chris and Paige took great pride in their book so, when they discovered a small defect in the back cover, they decided to donate rather than sell all 2800 copies. Chris, who serves on the board at First Book, a literacy advocacy group asked them to find a way to get these books to children in need. First Book contacted me at the East Bay Children’s Book Project asking that they be given to children who could not afford to buy them. So books that were selling like hotcakes for $19.95 at bookstores were given free to children in the East Bay.
I planned a one-day giveaway called Blackie Wednesday. It was so incredibly successful that I sent a glowing thank you to the staff at First Book and to Chris and Paige. Paige immediately called and asked to meet some of the children who received the books. She wanted children from Oakland and San Francisco who might never have seen a horse or the ocean to spend a day in Blackie’s Meadow.
Luckily the Rocky Road bus was available to transport the Oakland kids and the San Francisco classes were able to find transportation. So, on a beautiful March morning, 80 children arrived at Blackie’s meadow to greet the author, meet old friends of Blackie’s, pet Blackie’s statue and visit his grave.
Then Chris read the story and answered all their questions. Larry Smith, president of the Tiburon Peninsula Foundation told Blackie stories and naturalist Sarah Gill showed off the ocean tide-pools. After lunch, each child was given a free Blackie book and encouraged to write an animal story to add to Blackie’s web site. It was an amazing adventure for everyone involved. The teachers say the kids can’t stop talking about it. The adults involved loved the kid’s questions and their enthusiasm. We are all hoping something this wonderful comes along again.