BY JOE BUTTWEILER Journal Times
photos by Ron Kuenstler for the Journal Times
cutline: Above: Several onlookers gather to watch and help dig for the remains of Jay-Eye-See Wednesday in a field along Highway 11. Right: As bones lay in the foreground, Dan Joyce, right, looks at some of the remains while Kevin Jones helps with the dig.
Eighty-nine years after he was led out to pasture for the last time, the remains of one of the most famous racing horses in the world were exhumed in Mount Pleasant Wednesday.
A team of historians, horsemen, an archaeologist and backhoe operator unearthed about 80 percent of the bones of Jay-Eye-See within spitting distance of the spots where several people said they'd be.
But it was a woodchuck that was given much of the credit for the find. After several hours of fruitless digging, a couple horse bones were found next to a small hole.
Soon, bones believed to belong to the famous horse belonging to Jerome Increase Case were raining out of the backhoe bucket, much to the delight of the 20 or so elated diggers and onlookers.
“What a relief," said John Van Theil, a local historian who hopes to arrange a more fitting burial and monument to the horse.
In the 1880s and 1890s, Jay-Eye-See notched several harness-racing records and is still the only horse to set world records in two different gaits.
He was featured on trading cards and Currier and Ives lithographs, and was used to sell cigars, a harness bit and, of course, farm implements.
In a day when virtually everyone used horses, Jay-Eye-See was a star that people could easily relate to, said John Urhausen, a Racine native who raises harness-racing horses in Elkhorn.
“He was famous worldwide," said Urhausen, who won Jay-Eye-See's enshrinement in the Wisconsin Harness Racing Hall of Fame in January. The horse was inducted into the Trotting Horse Museum Hall of Fame in 1990.
Wednesday morning, Urhausen and his wife, Elaine, and son were among the eager onlookers in a field south of Highway 11, east of the former golf driving range.
They watched as Tony Azarian of Azarian & Sons Inc. peeled off layer upon layer of soil from the land. It is to be graded soon as part of a shopping area including a Menard's store.
Among the onlookers was Melton Jones, 90, who remembers sitting across the street on his parents' porch when the horse was taken out of the barn for the last time.
The 31-year-old Jay-Eye-See was wobbling, led by one man in front and one on each side, Jones said.
“All of a sudden he just disappeared down in the hole," Jones said. “I don't know how they did it."
As he watched the excavation, Jones said he figured the horse was buried slightly to the northwest of the spot where archaeologist Dan Joyce was directing the scraping Wednesday.
Jones wasn't the only one with a suggestion about where to dig. Elaine Urhausen, who recently visited the field with Case descendent Caleb Case, pointed to a slightly different area.
Local historian Jerry Karwowski, leaning on a shovel with the words “Jay-Eye-See or Bust" painted on the stem, suggested the horse might be under a slight rise to the south of the digging.
“How come they don't make a bone detector?" Azarian said with a laugh, shouting from the cab of the Case loader /backhoe.
Joyce said he expected the burial spot would be two to three feet deep, in mottled soil, and that most of the bones would be intact.
But could any old horse bones be mistaken for Jay-Eye-See's?
According to Karwowski, horses that died back then were sent off to glue factories or rendering plants. That this horse was buried at all is a tribute to its significance.
As the hot sun crossed the mid-point in the sky, enthusiasm for the dig waned, but the devoted persisted.
Then about 2 p.m., Karwowski, a former bottle digger, came upon the woodchuck hole with the two bones by it. Nearby was a pile of stones that seemed to be a marker of sorts, so Azarian dug in with the backhoe.
Soon, he was bringing up bones.
“I think it's great," said Joyce, a curator with the Kenosha Public Museum. “Frankly, I'm kind of surprised. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack."
As diggers dug out most of the rest of the bones with hand tools, others laid them out on a blanket.
By late afternoon, Joyce said it appeared they'd recovered 80 percent of the bones, including large leg bones, several teeth and parts of the neck and back.
“Now we can give a proper burial that will give him more of the recognition he deserved," Van Theil said.
He said the bones will be kept until a fitting burial site can be found, possibly in a city park.
“It depends on who takes an interest in funding the marker," Van Theil said.