Reference: Midnight Sun

Midnight Sun
Photo taken from The Voice of the Tennessee Walking Horse.

Midnight Sun was a profound influence on the Tennessee Walking Horse breed and has one of the most interesting histories of any horse I know. The massive black stud who stood about 16 hands was gentle enough to be ridden by children, and was on several occasions.

His story parallels the story of the "ugly duckling." Midnight Sun was out of a bay mare named Ramsey's Rena and by Wilson's Allen. As a colt he was plain, gangly, and thin. He was paid virtually no attention until he was a 4 year old under saddle. From that point on, the "ugly duckling" became a "swan." Midnight Sun won the World Grand Championship in 1945 and 1946 and was named the "Horse of the Century."

Since 1949, only 4 World Grand Champions have NOT been descendants of Midnight Sun!

Bill Harlin recalled, “I saw Midnight Sun show at the Celebration in 1946 and it was as exciting as anything I’ve ever seen. Midnight Sun brought some excitement to that show. With Midnight Sun there was some buzz in the community, you’d stop at a gas station and people’d be talking about who would win the Celebration. And then, when they brought Merry Go Boy in that just doubled the excitement. After they came along, the Saddlebred presence at the Celebration was diminished. Before, the walking horse classes at the Celebration were really when you went to get a drink or something. After Midnight Sun came along and then Merry Go Boy came along to challenge him, folks were in the stands waiting for it, cheers went up all the way around the arena.“  Discussing Midnight Sun’s impact on the breed, he adds, “Midnight Sun added a dimension that hadn’t been there before. He put a bold walk on. He identified the gait. He gave the breed some identification. It really didn’t have any before that, just a bunch of horses that looked like they were swimming or something.” In the same vein, Bill states, “There’s been some disservice put on the horse by some folks – talking about him being ugly or being long headed. They just don’t know. He wasn’t ugly, he was bigger than some of them but he was not ugly. If you made him park and set his head up, he looked as good as any. If you didn’t, he looked ordinary. He was a pretty docile kind of horse.”

Midnight Sun #410751
(Reprinted from The Heritage Tennessee Walking Horses Website)

Midnight SunFor years a guest book was kept at Harlinsdale Farm. Some days the champ was brought out of his stall twenty times a day for visitors to see and have their pictures taken with Midnight Sun. He was never ill natured. A child could go in his stall and pet him....

...The Tennessee Walking Horse, June 1951 issue says: "Throughout the United States, the get of Midnight Sun gain in popularity each year because his are the colts that are good in every department - conformation, style, animation, good looks and the inestimable ability conductive to performing the three gaits just right!"...

Before crowned champion in 1945 and again in 1946, Midnight Sun became the first Tennessee Walking Horse stallion to capture the Grand Championship, the most coveted honor of the breed. In winning his championships, Midnight Sun exemplified a regeneration of the old fashioned, easy slipping, flowing gaited Tennessee Walking Horse of fifty or seventy five years ago. Winning these championships was not sufficient to prove his worth to the breed, but since that time he has been able to transmit his greatness to his offspring, which will leave for him a living example yet to be matched."

Billy Taylor says of Midnight Sun, " Midnight Sun, in my opinion, was the best and most consistent breeder of true gaited Tennessee Walking Horses."


Midnight Sun
By Margaret Warden
April, 1966 Western Horseman Magazine

It was a big horse that lay covered in the hallway of the barn at Harlinsdale Farm, Franklin, Tenn., the afternoon of November 7, 1965.  Indeed, he was a big horse in every way - in stature, name, fame, and posterity.

Midnight Sun, a young 25, had become a legend years before his death that Indian summer afternoon.    On his record, he was the big horse of the Tennessee Walking Horse breed.   He was the first stallion to become world champion of his kind.  That was in 1945 and 1946 at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration at Shelbyville, Tennessee.   Then he sired horses that were grand champions there seven times; grand-sired the supreme winner five times;  and was the great-grandsire of nearly EVERY year's champion since that time. On only FOUR occasions since 1949,  have horses NOT descended from Midnight Sun, in a straight male line, been world champions of this breed.

If Midnight Sun had been foaled in 1930 instead of 1940, he would have acted on a small stage before a small audience, and for only local fame.  However, he flashed on the scene with perfect timing.  The nationwide discovery of the Tennessee Walking Horse afforded this remarkable individual, a big stage on which to perform before a large audience, and he responded gloriously to the opportunity.

From being a humble, back-country type known in a few southern states, the Walking Horse started going places after the registry society was formed in 1935.  It seemed that nearly everybody was reading about the Tennessee Walking Horse, and wanted to see this distinctive "new" breed in action.  Great singers, actors, athletes, and horses are "box office", and the big, black, storybook stallion was prominent among the performers to sell the breed to the public.

Horses are not a big money crop in the Volunteer State, but in the last 30 years, the Tennessee Walking Horse has brought in a lot of cash and numerous lookers, and Midnight Sun was high among those responsible.

For years a guest book was kept at Harlinsdale by owners A. F. and W. W. Harlin, but the books filled up fast, and after the novelty wore off, they were discontinued. Some days the champ was brought out of his stall 20 times for visitors to see and have their pictures made with Midnight Sun. He was never ill-natured. A child could go into his stall and pet him. Many a youngster was given the thrill of "riding Midnight Sun."

The big horse was cast in the heroic mold. When he finally matured, he averaged 1,350 pounds and appeared much taller than the "just under 16 hands" that he measured. He was distinctly large for a Walking horse, a robust but not tall breed. His home was his stall. He was never turned out in a paddock, but exercised daily under saddle between 30 minutes and an hour. The day before his death from colic, he was ridden at the walk and running walk about 30 minutes. The Tennessee Walking Horse may be thought of as a Cinderella breed, and Midnight Sun as an ugly duckling that matured into a swan.

Midnight SunIt was a farmer, the late Samuel M. Ramsey, at Viola, in the Tennessee hills west of Chattanooga and near McMinnville, who bred Ramsey's Rena, a bay mare of about 15.2 hands, to Wilson's Allen, a chestnut, at nearby Pelham. This was a couple of months before the latter's death from pneumonia on August 22, 1939.   Rena died young after producing just 3 foals.   Wilson's Allen was by Roan Allen, by Allen, from Birdie Messick by Allen, the Standardbred No. 1 foundation sire of the Tennessee Walking Horse.   Rena was about 90% Standardbred. She was by Dement's Allen by Hunter's Allen, by Allen F-1, and her dam was by Bell Buckle, a registered trotter of Bow Bells and Wedgewood blood.   The Registry gives the next dam as by John Covington's Hal, and the next as by "Galleston".   This was a trotter, but not an American Standardbred. Old-timers in the Woodbury area who remember him say that the name was Galson.   He was an imported black German Coach stallion, "nearly 17 hands and 1,500 pounds", owned by a stock company, and had cost $2,600.  (English, German and French coach horses were imported to the U.S. periodically to produce heavyweight hunters and carriage horses, or farm horses and mule mares, but the English Cleveland Bay is the only one hanging on today.)  German coach horses were a brief experiment in middle Tennessee from about 1903-1915. Galston is the only one with any known descendants.   He contributed size, color and stride to a prolific champion that has put his name far back in many a pedigree.

He sold as a suckling because he was one of the last crop by Wilson's Allen, and the buyer was stuck with him for nearly 3 years.   Nobody could see anything promising in that solid black colt that was plain, thin, and gangly.   What horseman is wizard enough to foretell what kind of mature horse, a weanling will make?   Alex and Wirt Harlin were among those who didn't want the black colt until they saw him perform under saddle in January, 1944, when he was turning 4 years old.   Then they paid $4,400, including the commission, and legend has it, that they were prepared to pay $10,000.

In 1956 at the Harlinsdale dispersal during the Murray Farm sale in Lewisburg, Tenn., Mrs. G. M. Livingston and daughter, Geraldine of Quitman, Ga., paid $50,000 for Midnight Sun.   The champ had new owners, but they wanted him left at Harlinsdale under the same management.  So there he lived out his years.  In 1962, he left home for his last personal triumph at the Celebration.  He paraded with 7 other former grand champions, including his old rival, Merry Go Boy, and drew more applause than any other.

What forbearers and what handlers produced Midnight Sun? Nobody knows yet what two horses to breed to get a certain champion.  No skilled trainer-rider can make a champion of just any horse he rides.

The history-maker's pedigree contains out-crosses that have probably added much vigor. Instead of Roan Allen in both lines, he had Hunter's Allen on the dam's side and some of the stoutest trotting blood of his ancestors' day.

Midnight Sun's sire, Wilson's Allen, was on a pedestal when he died, for among his get was Strolling Jim, Grand Champion of the first Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in 1939.

John A. Hendrixon of Manchester bred three of the last crop of Wilson's Allen and hastened to get 6 others as sucklings.  He paid $500 for the black colt, but buyers passed him by.  They liked the smooth, early maturing ones such as H-Boy.  There was a scramble to get him.  The Harlins were among the ones who lost out.

When the slow maturing black colt was a two year old, Hendrixon trucked him and several mares to Shelbyville and offered them for sale on a lot near the Celebration grounds.  He was still too thin and awkward to show what he could do, and Alex Harlin again declined to buy him.  Who could have predicted that the gawky colt would, three years later, be supreme champion of the breed, a few hundred yards from the scene of his rejection, and then proudly owned by those who had repeatedly rejected him?

But the next time the Harlin brothers (of Red Kap garment fame) saw the black stud, they hastened to buy him.  About October, 1943, the late Winston Wiser, then at Wartrace, acquired "Joe Lewis Wilson", as Hendrixon had registered him, and two or three months later rode him to the late Henry Davis' barn to show him off. 

Midnight Sun, Strolling Jim, City Girl, Black Angel and Melody Maid
1946 portrait of Champions (left to right): Strolling Jim, Melody Maid, Black Angel, City Girl and Midnight Sun.

The dean of Walking horsedom was so excited over the horse's performance that he couldn't sleep for nights, and he told Wirt Harlin about that "once in a lifetime, honest to goodness, old time saddle horse."  So, the very next day, after the purchase was made at Hendrixon's in January, 1944, Henry Davis took the stallion from Wiser's barn to Harlinsdale Farm in Franklin, about 50 miles away.

On any stage, a star performer needs and deserves an attractive name. "Joe Lewis Wilson" did nothing for the future champion. It was Bill Ashley of Franklin who suggested Midnight Sun soon after the horse arrived at Harlinsdale. "The noonday sun is the brightest and strongest thing we know and this is the blackest and strongest horse" said this imaginative admirer.

Except for the Get-Of-Sire classes, the big horse's show record is soon told, for he competed relatively few times, among the best. The new wonder wasn't really ready in 1944. His big frame hadn't filled out, nor had he hit his "big train" stride, but people were expecting to see him in competition and would have wondered why he wasn't shown. The Celebration constituted his debut and his only appearance of the year. In the stallion championship, he was second to Wilson's Ace, with Old Glory third. In the Open Stakes, he placed sixth, with the first three being City Girl, Black Angel, and Wilson's Ace. Carl Lee, the stallion's handler at Harlinsdale, rode him in the stallion event, and Winston Wiser was up in the grand championship.

In 1945 and 1946, the Midnight Sun was un-eclipsed.  In 1945, he won his class and the championship at Murfreesboro, Franklin, Columbia, Shelbyville (PTA Show in June), Lexington Junior League Show, and the Celebration where he topped stallions four years and over, the stallion championship, ladies-amateur (Mrs. Henry Davis up), and the grand championship. Cotton Pickin's Mac and Merry Wilson were second and third.

In 1946, with Fred Walker as trainer-rider again, Midnight Sun competed in just three shows; the Shelbyville PTA, the Celebration, and the Tennessee State Fair at Nashville.  At the first ones, he won the stallion class and open stake, get-of-sire, and the grand championship.  In the finale, the junior champion, Merry Go Boy, forced the reigning monarch to give his utmost to stay on top.  Third and fourth were Merry Wilson, good enough to be champion anywhere, and Black Angel, 1944 Celebration champion.

Midnight SunIn 1947, Merry Go Boy, then four years old, challenged successfully with Winston Wiser up.  Midnight Sun won the stallion championship (Merry Go Boy was not present) at the Celebration and the State Fair, but Merry Go Boy won the four years and over stud class, and Grand Championship for 1947 and 1948.

When a person dies, it is customary to take the point of view that his or her history is complete, but this cannot be so if the subject is a stallion that sired approximately 100 foals a year for 20 years, and whose sons and grandsons, and female offspring too, have proved themselves consistently to be winning producers of World Grand Champions.

In 1972 Geraldine Livingstone commissioned a statue of Midnight Sun. This statue was sculpted by Lee Burnam of Hawthorne, Florida, and presented as a birthday gift from Geraldine to her mother, Eleanor. The bronze black patina statue stands 7 feet tall and rests on a base of rose colored granite. It was placed on the South side of the Dixie Plantation house, beyond the pool, in a position so that it could be viewed from Eleanor's bedroom window. This is the only statue of a famous walking horse in existence today.

TWHBEA #410751

DOB: 6/08/1940
DIED: 11/01/1965


HEIGHT: "about" 16H
TWHBEA #350075
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