Lady Wonder was America’s Clever Hans. She was a black Thoroughbred-type mare with a blaze and three white stockings. Legend has it that Lady Wonder’s dam died when she as two weeks old and along came a buyer known only as Mrs. C. D. Fonda, who nursed the foal back to health and then discovered her amazing psychic powers.
Her original name was Lady, but when Mrs C. D. Fonda came up with a way of making money off of the mare, she was promptly renamed Lady Wonder. The mare had her fifteen minutes of fame in 1927 and faded into obscurity when it was discovered that she was in no way psychic. However, her owner kept up the act all throughout the mare’s life, selling three answers at one dollar each.
What Did She Do?
Lady Wonder would stand in her stall behind a long bar with a series of tin cards containing letters and numbers. When asked a question, she would flip the appropriate cards to spell out an answer. Mrs. Fonda claimed in a 1927 interview with the Richmond Times that as a foal, children’s blocks were her favourite toys and that is where Lady learned to spell.
Lady Wonder’s most remarkable feat was spelling put the location of the body of a missing three year old boy named Ronnie Weitcamp back in October of 1955. According to the legend, when police asked the mare, “Do you know why we are here?”, she spelled out “BOY.” When asked the boy’s name, she misspelled it “RONE”. When they asked if the boy was alive or dead, the reply was a prompt “DEAD.”
Upon further questioning, Lady Wonder replied that the boy’s body would be found in December in a hole in sandy soil by an elm tree more than a quarter mile from his home. She then refused to answer any more questions. Sure enough, in December, the little corpse was discovered just over a mile from his home in a hole with sandy soil and an elm tree. He had died of exposure.
Was She Legit?
Mrs. Fonda was a well-known animal trainer at the time, usually teaching tricks to Shetland ponies to be hired out at parties. She was finally exposed by professional magician Milbourne Chrisptopher, but people still came to see her perform. Although Lady Wonder probably could not see the future, she had an equally impressive ability to read the muscles of people as she moved towards letters. When she reached the right letter, the person would unconsciously relax and Lady knew what card to flip. But if the person asking the question did not know the answer, neither did Lady Wonder.
What about the case of Ronnie Weitcamp? At the time in 1955, it was pretty much a forgone conclusion that any young boy that wandered away from home was most likely going to turn up dead. She could have taken hints from the seasoned professional officers that interviewed her. And then it could be that the legend is entirely that – a legend and nothing more.
Lady Wonder must have contained an incredible patience and love for human beings in order to put up with all of that nonsense. But it was her job and she was employed at it most of her life.
Lady Wonder lived an incredibly long time for a horse living through the Great Depression and World War II. Foaled in 1924, she died in 1957 at the remarkable age of 33 which is old for a Thoroughbred. Her grave in Richmond, Virginia’s Pet Cemetery is topped by a simple yet elegant tombstone.
Wikipedia. “Clever Hans.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clever_Hans
Richmond Then and Now. “Index of Lady Wonder Items.” http://richmondthenandnow.com/Lady-Wonder-Index.html
James Randi Educational Foundation. “Lady Wonder.” http://www.randi.org/encyclopedia/Lady%20Wonder.html