Fillies and films: Museum presents leisure lecture series

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published July 16, 2019

 Shetland ponies were popular with farm and leisure crowds in  the late 1800s and early 1900s, and a farm in Birmingham was  known as the best place to get the animals.

Shetland ponies were popular with farm and leisure crowds in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and a farm in Birmingham was known as the best place to get the animals.

Photo provided by Leslie Pielack, of the Birmingham Museum

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BIRMINGHAM — Even as adults, summer just seems like the time we can relax a bit and splurge on some of the snacks, books and activities that are just plain fun — check the stuffy intellectualism at the door.

Well, historians like to kick up their heels from time to time too, and that’s what the Birmingham Museum is doing with its next two lectures at the Baldwin Public Library.

Dubbed “Throwback Thursdays,” the museum will host presentations at the library at 7 p.m. July 18 and Aug. 8.

First up will be Museum Assistant Caitlin Donnelly, the Eagle’s special contributor to the monthly “Looking Back” section. She’ll tell the story of how she came to learn that Birmingham might’ve been the country’s hottest spot to enjoy the popular Shetland ponies, a famous solid-but-sweet work and leisure horse more than 100 years ago. Shetland ponies were a favorite part of many a parade down Woodward Avenue and provided years of smiles at attractions on Bob-Lo Island, Belle Isle and Palmer Park.

“When Leslie (Pielack, museum director) first proposed this lecture series, I knew immediately what I was going to present on. In elementary school I was totally that annoying horse girl, and I’ve only moderately grown out of it,” said Donnelly. “I found the postcard showing the Watkin’s Shetland ponies on Belle Isle in my first few months working here way back in 2016, and I’ve been obsessed with the story ever since. You wouldn’t expect a suburb in the Detroit area to once be the place in North America to purchase a purebred Shetland pony, but Birmingham in the late 1800s-early 1900s was.”

Donnelly isn’t the only one with pony fever, and she said a good third of the museum’s social media posts are about the ponies, as they’re a big hit with residents.

For the second installment of Throwback Thursdays, museum staffer Kyler Phillips will present a discussion on Birmingham’s role in cinema, from acting talent to backdrops, stories and more, Aug. 8.

“It really is a melting pot, Birmingham. We have quite a few stories of people that have grown up in the area and made it big in Hollywood, and we have stories of companies and film crews coming to the city to make their own pseudo-Hollywood,” said Phillips. “It’s interesting to see how they incorporate the city into their productions.”

The lectures are free and open to the public. For more information, call the Birmingham Museum at (248) 530-1928 or visit bhamgov.org/museum.

The Baldwin Public Library is located at 300 W. Merrill St. in downtown Birmingham.

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