On July 1, 1861 Samuel D. Riddle was born in Pennsylvania in a town that already bore the family name (named after his successful father).
His father, an Irish-immigrant also named Samuel Riddle, established textile mills along Ridley Creek in 1842. Samuel D. would become president of the yarn company his father started but his beloved horse hobby would soon become his main occupation…and turn quite lucrative.
This farm was built in the 1700’s and purchased by Samuel for his horses and farm animals, mainly cows. After adding a rangy horse to his stable for $5,000 in 1918 no one realized that this horse would soon make him a multi-millonaire and internationally known sportsman.
The horse, named Man O’ War, would suffer only one defeat during his short three year career. In fact he was too good; some refused to enter races against him! Racing officials began to weigh him down with weights to “balance the odds.” Right before his retirement they put 138 pounds on him, an unheard of amount. He still won by six lengths.
When the 1920 season ended, Samuel retired the horse. The handicappers were talking about adding even more weights onto the horse and Samuel did not fancy pushing him to the brink. He turned down lucrative offers to race Man o’ War again (though he did stud him for $5,000). Later that year a man was arrested and sentenced to three months in jail after attempting to extort $10,000 from Samuel with threats of murdering Man O’ War.
Samuel would still have success on the turf. Man O’ War’s son, War Admiral, won him the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont in 1937 for the triple crown. When Samuel’s wife Elizabeth died in 1942 her will revealed that she and Samuel had established a trust fund for their beloved Man O’ War so that he could live his life out in real comfort.
The horse would die of a heart attack (just as his owner would several years later) in 1947. His body was embalmed and lay in state for two days as thousands attended the wake. The funeral consisted of nine eulogies and was broadcast nationally on the radio. Here is a great post about the funeral by the man who purchased the original photos of the event.
In January of 1951 Samuel died after suffering several heart attacks. He was 89. His will designated the bulk of his estate to fund a hospital in the area. His surviving family members, particularly his nephew-in-law Walter Jeffords (and we’ll talk about their family soon in another post), his sister Charlotte and his brother Mack but there were 21 complaining family members in total. They left the will in the hands of the courts for years, insisting that Samuel was mentally and physically incompetent when he had last signed his will in 1949. But Samuel wasn’t and when all was said and done the hospital was built.
A former Confederate soldier, Thomas Riddle tried to claim a stake in the will too, declaring that he was a half-brother of Samuel’s. At the time he was over 100-years old and living in the Confederate Veterans Home in Austin, Texas. Shot five times at Gettysburg while serving for the 22nd Tennessee, authorities quickly poked holes in Thomas’ story and he dropped the claim.
Today there are only a few reminders that a great sports hero roamed this area (though he was mostly trained and kept at Samuel’s other farm in Kentucky). There is the hospital, this horse farm and Man o’ War Drive just off Route 452. In 1999 it was reported that 700,000 still visit Man o’ War’s grave in Kentucky annually.