One of the first animal celebrities was the famous horse- Jim Key.
Owned by `Dr.' William Key, the most recognized African American of the day.
Known as “Marvel of the Twentieth Century” and “The Greatest
Crowd Drawer in America, during 1897-1906, the horse was the rage of America.
William Bill Key, was born into slavery in 1833, when Captain John Key died, he left in his will the slave family (along with five-year old William) to his cousin, John W. Key. Immediately, the young boy had a talent and love for animals, and a special relationship with horses. John W. Key's wife- Martha, who had a special fondness towards William, taught him etiquette and reading along with her sons. Before the Civil War, William read books on animals and even dentistry. The slaves on the Key residence actually relied on the now- young man for medical treatment.
Although he didn't fight, William Key was an associate of the Confederate army during the war. After the fall of Fort Donaldson, Key and his 'brothers,' snuck through enemy lines to safety of General Nathan Bedford Forest's troops.
After the war, Key returned to the plantation to see that his owner had died, and the plantation was heavily mortgaged and in disarray.
With Key's knowledge of animal and using herbs for medicines, he started his own animal clinic and was high in demand. He also began selling his own liniment. Key made enough money to pay off the mortgage of the plantation. Financially, he helped the Key family all his life. Asked why he did that- Key exclaimed "I was fortunate to have a kind Master."
Soon after Key began creating shows (while selling his Keystone liniment), training dogs and small donkey's and using kindness as a teaching tool rather than the whip.
The year his wife died, Dr. Key found a badly abused thirteen year old Arabian Hambeltonian horse, which once belonged to P.T. Barnum.horse. He paid 40 dollars for the animal.
Attempting to breed the world's fastest race horse, a colt was born sickly, and Key even let the horse into his house to recover. Key named the colt Jim, after the town drunk, because both were unsteady on their feet.
Key's third wife- Lucinda immediately notice how smart the horse was, as it imitated tricks that the dog performed.
Later, Dr. Key took Jim on the road to sell his liniment. Jim would act sick and fall down in front of the crowd, and after giving him his medicine, the horse would spring up, refreshed. Dr. Key created a show and promoted to make `Beautiful' Jim Key a household name. And by the 1890's he was one of the most famous and respected Americans. In 1906, both Jim and Dr. Key's health started to take a downward turn. In 1909, Dr. Key passed away. Beautiful Jim Key passed away three years after his owners death at the age of 23.
`Beautiful' Jim Key (his stage name), was said to read, write, spell, add, sort mail, tell time, use a cash register, and even cite the Bible. The horse's intelligent was reported as 6th grade level and could add up to 25. The horse could spell out words called out from the audience using stencils on a display box. He could sort mail in the proper slots as well as distinguish money and give correct change from the cash register.
One of the most talked-about feats was Jim Key removing a silver dollar from a water-filled glass jar without spilling or drinking a drop.
Dr. Key established a leading veterinary practice, a racetrack, hotel, restaurant. His third wife, Lucinda Davis Key, was one of the first black women doctors licensed to practice in the state of Tennessee.
Jim Key was best friends with a dog named- Monk.
Dr. William Key married two sets of sisters during his life.
The Jim Key exhibit at the St. Louis World's Fair was a popular top moneymaker. William Key performed in front of then-President Teddy Roosevelt's daughter, Alice. Jim Key spelled Alice's name- “Alice Roosevelt Longworth,” adding the surname of her escort.
The Beautiful Jim Key exhibit was one of the first shows to open at the beginning of the Fair. Sometimes averaging 20,000 spectators a day! Instead of hiring a barker, Key brought in Gordan Bunch, a famous clown of the time. Jim Key was valued at 100,000 dollars.
President William McKinley declared that Jim Key was the greatest object lesson of the power of kindness that he had ever witnessed.
Dr. William Key opened a lot of avenues for African Americans and promoted implored spectators to support humane groups to be kind to animals.
Did Beautiful Jim key perform all these feats without any tricks? A group of Harvard educators and experts tested Jim Key, and interviewed Dr. Key on October 27, 1901, and could not find any tricks- their conclusion was that the horse was simply educated. It is a given that Dr. William Key was an extraordinary individual as was his four-legged companion.
The building was called the Golden Horseshoe Building. Carson-Hudson & Co were the architects.