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Resolution on ownership of Old Baldy

A legal battle between two Philadelphia museums over ownership of a Civil War horse's head has been resolved. This is not just any war horse but Old Baldy who carried Gen. George Meade through eight battles, including Gettysburg where he was seriously wounded for the fifth time and forced into retirement.

Both he and the General survived the war. When Meade died in 1872, Old Baldy was in the funeral procession. When the horse died in 1882, he was buried but within days was dug up, his head and neck severed, properly preserved and mounted on a tablet. The gift was proudly presented to the Philadelphia G.A.R. Post named for Meade. All was well until the Post fell on hard financial times.

The Post, later renamed the Grand Army of the Republic Museum and Library, lent the valuable icon in the 1970s to the Civil War Museum --now the Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum of Philadelphia--on the promise that Old Baldy would get a complete and much needed restoration and would be properly displayed.

At its new home, Old Baldy got great care and a prominent display. The horse’s image became part of the museum’s promotional literature and appeared on its web site. But that museum closed in 2008 in anticipation of a move to a better facility but the financing fell through and everything, including the horse head, went into storage.

The G.A.R. museum wanted its horse back. The Civil War Museum claimed ownership. The lawyers jumped in and the case wound up in the Orphan’s Court where legal issues involving non-profits are heard. In a Solomon-like decision, both sides came out winners.

Old Baldy will go on display at the G.A.R. museum for at least three years but the Civil War Museum has responsibility for its protection and must approve the plans for its transfer. If all goes well, Old Baldy will be back in his former home next month and a grand opening and reception for him are planned for early September.

By Linda Wheeler  |  March 25, 2010; 11:58 AM ET
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