Man Sitting on a Dead Horse, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, ca. 1880s

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A man wearing top hat, sitting on a dead horse in the street. Picture was taken at South Eighth Street and Indiana Avenue in Sheboygan, Wisconsin between 1876 and 1884.

Who is that mysterious, elegant man? And why is he sitting on a dead horse?

“This thing has gotten more mileage than you can shake a stick at,” said Scott Prescher, who has a copy of the dead horse photo in his restaurant in Sheboygan. “It is just a funny picture. He is sitting on there with a top hat like he had somewhere special to go and his horse just croaked in the middle of the road.”

“No one knows who the gentleman is, exactly what year the picture was taken or the circumstances surrounding it,” said Beth Dipple, director of the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center, which has had the picture in its collection for at least 20 years.

After writing two stories about the picture, The Sheboygan Press received more than 50 calls and emails about it.

Some of the ideas about what the picture depicts include the thoughtful, it was staged for a political campaign perhaps related to sanitation issues –– to the bizarre –– the horse is being helped to relieve “excess flatulence.”

Dibble said the newspaper published the photo on August 20, 1974, but mainly to focus attention on the nearby buildings. The caption said the man who provided the photo to the newspaper received it from a friend who had no idea about its origin.

Dipple said about all that’s known about the picture is it was taken at South Eighth Street and Indiana Avenue in Sheboygan between 1876 and 1884, based on the presence of a bridge over the Sheboygan River in the background and the absence of the railroad tracks that were installed in 1884.

Colleen Fitzpatrick determined a number of possible dates for the photograph in The Dead Horse Investigation. In a later blog she further narrowed the most likely dates down to either August 10, 1873 or August 10, 1879.

The city had laws that required people to stay with their dead horses until they were picked up and disposed of, Dipple said.

“Who knows why somebody would take a picture of it?” she said. “People had weird senses of humor then just like they do now.”

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