Anecdote: There=?windows-1252?Q?=92s_?=got to be a pony somewhere. (February 1953)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Tue Dec 10 03:12:00 UTC 2013

If you are interested in the evolution of the popular "there must be a
pony" anecdote here are some early citations beginning in 1902. Horse
dung, a horse shoe, and a horsehair are used as comical proxies in
these tales.

[ref] 1902 January, Advertising Experience, Volume 14, Number 3, Agate
Club Banquet of December 20th, (Speaker: William E. Mason, Illinois
State Senator), Start Page 3, Quote Page 6, Column 2, Published and
Edited by W.G. Souther, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View)
link [/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
Three little children were hanging up their stockings. They were
Rebecca and Rachel and Ikey. The old man had licked Ikey the night
before and told him that Santa Claus was no good and wouldn't bring
him anything.

"Oh, yes," said Ikey, "Santa Claus will; my father is an old friend of
his; Santa Claus is a nice fellow; he will bring me something."

By the way, I should tell you what a mean daddy the father was. He
went out into the street and got a piece of frozen earth that hadn't
been left there by an automobile [laughter], and he put
that—deliberately took and put it in poor little Ikey's stocking. In
the morning the three children were up early to find out what Santa
Claus had left them. "What you got?" was the first question as each
examined the contents of the stockings. Rachel had a little diamond
ring and Rebecca had a gold watch. "And you, Ikey. What did you get?"

But Ikey was faithful.

"Well, Santa Claus is all right," he said. "I think he brought me a
pony, but he must have got away." [Laughter and applause.]
[End excerpt]

[ref] 1917 May, Bulletin (N.Y. State Safe Deposit Association), Volume
6, Number 5, (Introductory remark by Herbert T. Magruder of Hanover
Safe Deposit Co., New York before the presentation of his paper "The
Human Side of the Safe Deposit Business"), Quote Page 128, Published
by New York State Safe Deposit Association, New York. (HathiTrust Full
View) link link [/ref]

[Being excerpt]
Mr. Magruder: Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen: Before asking you to follow
me, for a few minutes, away from the big subjects of the day—the
all-pervading clamor and excitement of the War; not to mention those
other big topics which have been discussed before you last night and
this afternoon, I am going to ask your indulgence for just this one

Perhaps it is because I am a bit fearful that you may discover a sort
of pervading tone of pessimism in this paper that I want to tell you
this story about the two brothers—small boys—one of them a confirmed
pessimist, and the other a thoroughly "blooming optimist."

The father of these boys had tried in every way possible to equalize
the natures of the boys, but with no success at all. So, when
Christmas time came around he was very careful to purchase for the
pessimistic one everything in the line of toys and outfit that he had
at any time expressed a wish for. In the stocking of the optimistic
youngster, he put only a small horseshoe, as an omen of Good Luck.

Christmas morning came; and the pessimist, who was the first
downstairs, looked wearily over the huge display of gifts provided for
him; and then settled back with a sour look and this gloomy
expression, "Oh, what's the use. These things will all be broken up in
a day or two."

Shortly afterwards, the optimist came bounding down; took one look
into his stocking, and lifting out the horseshoe, exclaimed, "Oh,
papa, look Santa Claus brought me a dandy pony, but it got away."
[End excerpt]

[ref] 1927, George R. Stuart: Life and Work by W. W. Pinson (William
Washington Pinson), Quote Page 161 and 162, Cokesbury Press,
Nashville, Tennessee. (HathiTrust) link link [/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
This story is one of his illustrations on the subject of optimism:
"John and Jim were two brothers—John a decided optimist and Jim an
extreme pessimist. Their father became alarmed over the pessimism of
Jim and decided to try an experiment at Christmas. John wanted a pony
and Jim a gold watch. The night before he put a beautiful gold watch
in Jim's stocking and a horsehair in that of John. He hid next morning
to see the effect.

Jim came in, took out the watch and said: 'Looks like a gold watch. 0,
I know it is not; must be brass. I bet the works won't be any good.'
John followed, looked at the lone horsehair and laughingly said, 'Gee,
Santa brought me a pony, but he got away.' His optimism failed to
furnish the pony, but it saved the reputation of Santa Claus and
gladdened the heart of John more than the gold watch did the heart of

In his philosophy of life optimism and humor are fruits of the same
tree if not interchangeable.
[End excerpt]

[ref] 1934 November 13, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, With Art Arthur: Eddie
Cantor Loves to Tell the Story of a Prank He played on Pullman Train,
Quote Page 12, Column 8, Brooklyn, New York. (Old Fulton)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
Another pet child story that Lupino tells is a Christmas perennial,
which we might as well relay as the first of the Christmas stories for
this season. (Only umpty seven more days to Christmas.)

As the story goes—there was a nice old man who had a little daughter
named Winifred. But he was a poor man and when Christmas came around
he hadn't enough money to buy his little daughter a gift.

So he decided to get her a horseshoe and tell her about the wonderful
luck it would bring. Came Christmas morning. The little girl ran down
the stairs to the fireplace, reached into her stocking and brought
forth the horseshoe.

Her father came in a few minutes later, "Well, honey," he said, "was
Santa Claus nice to you this morning?"

And the little girl, her face beaming, exclaimed, "Oh, yes, daddy, he
was. He brought me a pony—but it got away..."
[End excerpt]


On Sun, Nov 17, 2013 at 7:13 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      =?windows-1252?Q?Re=3A_Anecdote=3A_There=92s_got_to_be_a_pony_so?
>               = =?windows-1252?Q?mewhere=2E_=28February_1953=29?=
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Nov 17, 2013, at 2:04 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>> Garson, that's essentially the version I remember from Kirkwood's novel.
>> Except, of course, that it as "horse shit," not "fertilizer."
>> JL
> I'd opt to split the difference with "(horse) manure", as in "She was just a farmer's daughter, but all the horse manure".
> LH
>> On Sun, Nov 17, 2013 at 1:37 PM, ADSGarson O'Toole <
>> adsgarsonotoole at> wrote:
>>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>> -----------------------
>>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>> Poster:       ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>
>>> Subject:
>>> =?windows-1252?Q?Anecdote=3A_There=92s_got_to_be_a_pony_somewhere
>>>              =2E_=28Feb?= =?windows-1252?Q?ruary_1953=29?=
>>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>>> LH wrote:
>>> I'm sure Reagan didn't invent his beloved story about the boy who was
>>> delighted to be sent to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure
>>> "because there's gotta be a pony in here somewhere".
>>> JL wrote:
>>> I read it in James Kirkwood's novel, "There Must be a Pony!" (1960).
>>> JL also wrote:
>>> I see Charlie found a reference from 1958. (Dictionary of Modern Proverbs:
>>> highly recommended.)
>>> [Text from previous messages ends here]
>>> Google Books has matches that are supposedly dated in the 1940s for
>>> the anecdote about optimism, manure, and a hypothetical pony.
>>> Investigation shows that some of the dates are simply incorrect.
>>> Probing shows that some of the volumes with matches contain material
>>> from several years including the 1950s. At this point I do not know if
>>> GB contains an earlier citation.
>>> However, here is a citation with a publication date 1953 from an
>>> online repository of material from an Alcoholics Anonymous group. The
>>> repository is not part of a library but it looks authentic.
>>> [ref] 1953 February, Central Bulletin, Volume 11, Number 4,
>>> (Newsletter for Alcoholics Anonymous subgroup), A Giggle with a Moral,
>>> Quote Page 2, Column 1, Published by Cleveland Central Committee of
>>> Alcoholics Anonymous, Cleveland, Ohio. (Online repository at
>>>; PDF of scanned pages; accessed November 17, 2013)[/ref]
>>>      (This link leads to a 6 megabyte file)
>>> [Begin excerpt]
>>> The parents of identical twins were plagued by the fact that one was a
>>> cheerful optimist and his brother a morbid pessimist. Not knowing how
>>> to cope with the problem, they sought the advice of a psychiatrist. He
>>> pondered a few moments and then made a proposal.
>>> “Go home,” he told the parents, “and fill one room with
>>> toys-everything that a boy desires. Have all the packages beautifully
>>> gift-wrapped. Put the pessimist in this room at 7:30 tomorrow morning.
>>> “Fill the other room with fertilizer-and maybe a shovel-but that’s
>>> all. Put the optimist in this room at 7:30. I’ll be around at 9
>>> o’clock and we shall see what we see.”
>>> Next morning the psychiatrist was prompt. He followed the parents into
>>> the room with the wonderful toys. The kid was slouched in a chair with
>>> a dejected look on his face. He hadn’t even removed the gift
>>> wrappings. “What’s the use?” he asked glumly,  “I probably won’t like
>>> what I find-and if I do, I won’t get to keep it.”
>>> A marked contrast greeted them in the other room. With a broad grin on
>>> his face, the optimist was shoveling for all he was worth. “With all
>>> this fertilizer,” he declared, “there’s got to be a pony somewhere.”
>>> [End excerpt]
>>> Garson
>>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>>> The American Dialect Society -
>> --
>> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
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