A Race On the Wild Side

Panoramic View of Washington, D.C. - Looking Toward West Side of U.S. CapitolOn March 8, 1903, more than just the animals went wild at the National Zoo. Around noon that day, nine year old Raymond Welty, of 1228 H Street NE, Washington, DC, had a little too much free time on his hands. While trying to ward off boredom, Raymond came across a Mr. Henry Tate's horse and buggy. With no Mr. Tate around and the horse looking oh so lonely, Raymond – not one to look a gift horse in the mouth – hopped into the driver's seat and took up the reins. Careful to avoid his father's house, Raymond took a ride to 15th and M streets, where he convinced his unwitting friend, ten year old William B. Palmer, to come along for the adventure.

Estimated Route Welty and Palmer Traveled. With Raymond wielding the whip, the boys raced around the city. First, they excitedly steered the horse down Pennsylvania Avenue, careening past some of their favorite spots. They then shot down to the Ellipse, and took the horse through the muddied National Mall. For almost three hours they ran the horse to the ground, but Raymond eventually tired of this and thought it would be great fun to travel up to the National Zoo. He steered the horse towards the Pike and they made their way to Rock Creek Park.  Once there, they entered the Zoo at its main entrance and began to tear down the hill. It was raining, and the muddy roads were very slippery. All at once little Raymond was unable to guide the beleaguered horse, and the horse, buggy, and boys flew over a fifteen-foot embankment, and crashed in a giant heap.

Elephant House, National Zoo, by Unknown, 1903, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 2002-10618.Fortunately, an alert police officer R. L. Carroll, of the tenth precinct, witnessed the boys' attempt at reliving the Kentucky Derby, and rushed to their aid when their sport went afoul.  Officer Carroll pulled Raymond and William from underneath the buggy, and led Mr. Tate's horse to safety. The boys came out unscathed; but the horse sustained injuries to its legs and chest. Exhausted from the long trek, it was treated by a veterinarian and taken back to the police station to wait for Mr. Tate.

Now apprehended, the two criminals were also taken to the station, while an angry Mr. Tate identified what was left of his buggy.  After questioning the boys, William, speechless with terror, received only a summons and lecture about his behavior. However, Raymond – the mastermind of this ill-fated escapade – was sent to the House of Detention where he told authorities that he had the time of his life, explaining:

If the horse had held out, Bill and I'd have had a great time...We wasn't thinking  about anything but the animals in the cages at the Zoo. We was driving along pretty fast, down the hill by the main entrance. The horse was going some, too, let me tell you - say, whose horse was it anyhow? I forgot to ask...Was I scared. Say you can't scare me with horses. I like horses.

Model of the National Zoo, by Unknown, c. 1888, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, 2002-10703.Not one for remorse, Raymond was kept at the House of Detention for safekeeping, though his father, James Welty, was able to visit his wayward son.

It turns out this was not the first offense for young Raymond. Prior to his jaunt around DC, Raymond was picked up by police on two separate occasions for running away. A 1910 census entry for a Raymond Welty showed that the then seventeen year old was a member of the National Training School for Boys, a juvenile correction institution. Could this be the same Raymond? His rap sheet would suggest it as a strong likelihood.

Related Collections

Leave a Comment

Produced by the Smithsonian Institution Archives. For copyright questions, please see the Terms of Use.