Apologizing to Mr. Meredith Lankford

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, February 18, 2015


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column about Tryon’s founding mothers, and I made an error. Actually I made more than one, but hey, who’s counting? I am not an historian, and I don’t even think I’ve played one on TV.

I credited a 17-year-old master builder at Tryon Toy Makers and Wood Carvers with building the first large version of Morris (originally called Eleanor), and referred to Meredith Lankford as Miss Meredith Lankford.

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Meredith Lankford was a man—a boy, really–when he crafted our first big toy horse, and I do apologize profusely. He probably got teased in the school yard enough as it was without some Tryon noob calling him a girl.

Mr. Lankford left Tryon Toy Makers and Wood Carvers to repair and refinish furniture, moved to Asheville to raise a family and make reproductions of antique furniture at the Artisan Shop in Biltmore Forest, and later worked in Burlington, N.C., to make AT-21 bomber planes for the war effort.

He volunteered for the Navy in 1944, and served on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific until his release in 1946. Then he returned to Tryon and worked as a carpenter, cabinetmaker and house builder until he retired.

Mr. Lankford died in December of 2000 at the age of 89 in St. Luke’s Hospital. He was clearly an important figure in Tryon’s history as well as a WWII veteran, brother, husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.

While I’m at it, I’d also like to apologize to another man named Odell Peeler. According to the articles my friends sent me to try and edumacate me after my blunder on the gender of Mr. Lankford, there were actually two men who crafted the first big Morris.

Nearly every source I could find credits the two men with not only making the large horse for Tryon’s first horse show at Harmon Field in 1928, but also 25-30 small ones—only three inches tall–that sold out in less than an hour at the horse show. The following year, another 60 tiny horses also sold out.

So, who is this Odell Peeler fellow? Google tells me nothing except that he was the co-builder of Morris. And that he was gone by April of 2000 when Mr. Lankford was quoted in an article saying, “I wish Odell Peeler was alive to see what the old horse has come to.”

Maybe I should just call Mr. Peeler a woman right here and now so folks will start sending me information about him. Actually, what I should do is run down to The Book Shelf and buy Mike McCue’s book, The Tryon Toy Makers and Wood Carvers: A History, 1915-1940.

Mike McCue is the real deal—an actual Tryon historian—not some nutty actress who moved here from L.A. and started writing a newspaper column.

Speaking of getting history right, I should mention that even though I keep referring to the horse from 1928 as Morris, he didn’t actually get that name officially until 1982. He was known as The Tryon Horse until the early 80s when a group of neighbors on Wilderness Road, calling themselves “The Wilderness Road Gang” dubbed him Morris.

A woman named Mary Flynn Moore is credited with coming up with the name and Jim Flack wrote a poem about it. This group had been stealthily placing a wreath on the horse “during the wee hours” of Christmas morning since the 70s, and this activity was documented in yet another poem by Harry Evans in 1975 (referring to “The Tryon Horse”). I suspect eggnog was involved.

The first Morris was destroyed in a fire in 1930 and the second was stolen by some hooligans across the state line and destroyed in the kidnapping effort. It’s all very sad, but I do love that it gave me the chance to use the word hooligans.

So, there you have it—more ramblings … um, I mean history on our beloved Morris. Yes, he was The Tryon Horse before he was Morris and started out being called Eleanor, but I’m not going to remark on the fact that he’s had both a girl’s and a boy’s name. I’m not about to question his gender. That’s how I got into trouble in the first place.