Sunday, August 17, 2014

"Sunday Night Ostrich" would be a good name for band

So here's your "Sunday Night Ostrich," in the form of a vintage postcard.

The postcard was mailed in 1908 and the caption on the front, though a bit hard to read, states:
Oliver W. jr.
the trotting Ostrich, Ostrich Farm, Jacksonville, Fla.
Oliver W. Jr. was apparently A Big Deal.

When they say that Oliver trotted, they mean that he pulled people in a small carriage, like a horse. (And, yes, that seems like a bad idea.)

The Shorpy Archive has a photo from 1905 to prove it...

According to someone who left comments on that Shorpy page, "From what I've been able to dig up, Oliver W. Jr. was named after a cousin of Theodore Roosevelt who made a locally-celebrated visit to Jacksonville sometime shortly after the turn of the 20th century."

A 1902 publication titled Camp and Plant, Volume 2, now in the public domain, has this to say about Oliver W. Jr.:
“Go and hitch up the ostrich,” is not at all an absurd command on an ostrich farm. There these great birds are often harnessed to a carriage, and make fairly good substitutes for horses. Although they cannot draw a heavy load, their speed is a recommendation.

At Jacksonville, Florida, there is a bird named Oliver W. that can run a mile in two minutes and twenty-two seconds. His owners claim that he is more satisfactory than a horse, because he eats less, never shies at anything, never runs away, and goes steadily at a good pace without laziness or fatigue.

This particular ostrich appears to like his work. When the little carriage is brought out he comes running toward it at full speed, with both wings spread out, ready to have the harness put on.

On one occasion a cyclist tried to pass Oliver W. on a long, smooth stretch of road. He came up behind the carriage, thinking to get ahead and escape the dust. Oliver W. thought differently. He threw his head high in the air, gave a flap with his wings, and went forward with a speed that astonished the cyclist. Putting forth more effort, the latter made another attempt to pass the ostrich, but the faster the pedals of the bicycle moved the faster sped the long legs of the bird.

It so happened that the cyclist had a record as a fast rider, and to be distanced by an ostrich was not to his liking. For two miles he tried to pass his feathered rival, but was then obliged to give up the race, defeated.

Some fast horses have tried conclusions with Oliver W., who seems to like nothing better than testing their speed, starting slowly to make them think it easy to distance him, and then gradually increasing his pace.
If you're interested in learning more about the Florida Ostrich Farm in Jacksonville, Duke University has a nice collection of vintage advertising images and ephemera from the former business on its website.

Finally, for the record, I can note that this postcard was mailed in February 1908 to an individual in Bainbridge, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The short note read:
"2/10. 08
We are going to take a trip 180 miles up the St. Johns river, will take us 2 days. Are well, Bev."

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