She was a national phenom. More than 150,000 people traveled to Richmond, Virginia to meet her in person. By 1927 she was famous from coast to coast, this black, part Thoroughbred mare with three white socks but not for sport as you might think. No, this mare was famous for her ability to solve problems and predict the future.
Lady Wonder and Claudia Fonda
Her name was Lady Wonder. She was born February 9, 1924 and at two weeks old gifted to Claudia Fonda from her husband. Fonda had a penchant for teaching animals. She taught her Pomeranian, Pudgy, to play the piano and a Shetland pony several tricks. Fonda bottle fed the filly and realized almost immediately that this horse was special. Lady was separated from other horses, her only company with Fonda and 26 blocks marked with letters of the alphabet. Within a few months the horse could easily identify each letter. As her training progressed, Fonda noticed that the horse would obey commands that she had not yet uttered aloud. Did Lady possess a sixth sense?
Fonda taught Lady to move lettered and numbered children’s blocks with her nose to spell out words. Later Fonda and her husband constructed a piano-sized contraption with a double row of keys. Lady would touch her muzzle on a lever which caused a tin card with a letter or number to pop up in response to questions. Visitors described Lady’s working sessions, “she appeared to sleep as she moved the blocks, her eyelids heavy and trance-like. As she completed her answer, she lifted her head and her eyes became bright again.”
Lady had answers for every question – she would tell the sex of unborn children, tell the date on a coin hidden from her view. She could tell the time on a clock when the face was pointing the opposite direction. She once chose 28 out of 28 winning horses at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course.
For more than three decades the public flocked to the little red barn where Lady stabled. Fonda charged $1 for 3 questions most afternoons between noon and 3 p.m.. Politicians and policemen consulted with her, skeptics, horse trainers, researchers and magicians studied her. She wasn’t always right but her ability to answer correctly and divulge the future defied the odds. Was she incredibly smart? Was she telepathic? Was she a tool of trickery?
A research team from Duke University spent several days at the farm testing Lady’s abilities. They wrote words on paper, hidden from Lady’s view then asked her to spell out what he had written. She generally responded correctly including difficult words like “Mesopotamia”. As the tests became more challenging, Lady’s answers were less accurate. At one point blindfolded, she answered incorrectly every time. Testing Fonda and lady together, the researchers discovered that if Fonda did not know the answer, Lady was wrong. They concluded that the horse did not possess independent thinking but seemed responsive to telepathy as she could answer correctly if someone else (Fonda) was in the room.
1952 Los Angeles Times reported “As a prophet, this horse seems to be about as faithful a replica of Nostradamus as the twentieth century has produced”. The journalist was impressed by Lady’s abilities but believed the law of averages explained her success better than supernatural abilities.
Lady Wonder died March 19 1957, and is buried in a Richmond pet cemetery. Fonda died in 1959. The property from where Lady dealt her remarkable insights is now an interstate.
Feature Photo Courtesy: Richmond Times Dispatch
Lady Wonder Directs Authorities to Missing Boy
In 1955, writer and broadcast reporter Frank Edwards was working for WTTV, Bloomington, Indiana 1955. Edwards was aware of Lady Wonder and sent a few friends to Richmond for her consultation on a missing local boy. Following is an article he wrote about the experience for the Richmond Times Dispatch.
The Mare Solved the Mystery
By Frank Edwards
Three-year-old Ronnie Weitcamp left his three small playmates in the front yard and ran around the house. It was a few minutes before noon on October 11th, 1955. Two hours later Ronnie was the object of one of the most intensive searches central Indiana ever saw, a search that led into many states and, finally, to a horse that had the answer.
When little Ronnie failed to come in for lunch on that fateful day, his mother inquired of his three small playmates, who told her, ‘Ronnie went into the woods and he wouldn’t come out!’ Frantic, the mother spread the alarm, for the ‘woods’ to which the children referred constituted thousands of acres of scrub timber that spread over the hilly south-central Indiana landscape around the Crane Navel Depot where Ronnie’s father worked. If Ronnie was lost in there, finding him quickly was imperitive.
Sheriff’s deputies and Indiana States Police lined up shoulder to shoulder with an estimated fifteen hundred employees of the Naval Depot. Ronnie had been missing for only a couple of hours when the first search parties were formed; by late afternoon, when the October chill began to settle over the scene, long lines of men were scanning the bushes and ravines for some trace of the youngster. They were working against time, for without shelter it was highly improbable that Ronnie could live through the night.
When the searchers came in empty handed, long after dark, the case took a different twist. Ronnie was a very pretty little fellow and very friendly. Had he taken up with some stranger and been abducted? The searchers felt certain that they had not overlooked him. They had tramped through thickets and creeks and gullies for hours, covering far more ground than a three-year-old boy could conceivably encompass in the same period of time. Had he been kidnapped, after all?
Once the story hit the front pages of the newspapers and the broadcast services, tips poured in from all sides. Ronnie was seen in a bus station; he was seen with a young man dressed in a hunting costume walking along a street in an Illinois town about a hundred miles from Crane, Indiana. Authorities were overlooking no bets. With the aid of the F.B.I. they ran down every ‘clue’ and each fruitless tip. Among others, the newspapers played up the yarn of a drunken veterinarian in New Jersey who blabbed that the missing child was buried in the backyard of the Weitcamp home.
As a news director of television station WTTV at Bloomington, I was one of the first to be contacted by the authorities in this case, since our Bloomington studios were only about twenty-five miles from the scene of the search. We flashed the picture of Ronnie Weitcamp at two-hour intervals, in the hope that someone might recognize him and give the authorities the lead that would return the child to his grief-stricken parents and his brothers and sisters. I televised an interview with the parents in the faint hope that if the child had been abducted the guilty party might realize the enormity of the crime and return the child. All our efforts were in vain; Ronnie Weitcamp had vanished without a trace.
Eleven days dragged by and still no trace of little Ronnie. Even the ‘tips’ and ‘leads’ from persons who thought they had seen him petered out. The story dropped to the inside pages of the Indiana newspapers, to be replaced in the headlines with newer and fresher matters.
On the night of October 22nd, after the search for Ronnie Weitcamp had come to a halt for lack of any further leads, my wife and I were discussing the matter and she recalled the strange case of a few years before in which authorities in a New England city had credited a most unusual source with helping them solve the mystery of a missing child.
The authorities in that case said they had found the child with information supplied by a talking horse!
When my wife reminded me of the incident, I could recall that I had seen it on the news wires, but I was understandably vague on details. Yet it took only a few minutes’ searching through the files of my broadcast scripts to come up with the details:
In Richmond, Virginia, there was a most unusual horse known as Lady Wonder. In response to questions, the horse would use her nose to flip up large tin letters which hung from a bar across her stall. By flipping up these letters she spelled out words in answer to questions put to her.
When the police authorities of Norfolk County, Massachusetts, had to admit failure in their months-long search for four-year-old Danny Matson, they turned in desperation to Lady Wonder. According to the District Attorney of Quincy, the horse directed them to a water-filled stone quarry which had already been searched without result. But this time, with misgivings, they searched the quarry again and found the body of Danny Matson, exactly as the horse had indicated.
The so-called ‘talking horse’ had apparently been able to direct the authorities to the missing Danny Matson. Could the same animal do as much in the case of Ronnie Weitcamp?
Since I could not get away to make the trip to Richmond, Virginia, myself, I immediately got in touch by long-distance telephone with a close personal friend in Washington, D.C., about a hundred and seventy-five miles from Richmond. It took considerable persuasion on my part to induce my friend and a companion to make the trip; after all, who wants to drive a hundred and seventy-five miles to talk to a horse?
They went reluctantly, They returned bewildered.
Mrs. Fonda, the owner of the horse, was ill, and Lady Wonder was more than thirty years old, a veritable Methuselah of her species. After convincing Mrs. Fonda that their case was an emergency, my friends were finally permitted to enter the stable to question the horse.
The first question they put to her was, ‘Do you know why we are here?’
Without hesitation the horse spelled out ‘B-O-Y.’
‘Do you know the boy’s name?’
Lady Wonder flipped up the letters ‘R-O-N-E.’ (Was she trying to spell ‘Ronnie’?)
‘Is he dead or alive?’
‘Was he kidnapped?’
‘Will he be found?’
‘Is he more than a quarter of a mile from where he was last seen?’
‘More than a mile?’
‘What is near him?’
‘What kind of soil?’
‘When will he be found?’
With that the ancient mare turned and shuffled unsteadily out of the stable, the interview at an end. My friends hastened to the nearest telephone to recount their unusual experience to me…
…Admittedly, Lady Wonder was a most unusual horse. She had unhesitatingly spelled out answers in reply to the questions my friends had put to her. Did I dare use such material on my television news programme? What would happen if I did use it?
It was a difficult decision for me to make, but I finally decided to broadcast the replies just as Lady Wonder had given them . . . for what they might be worth, if anything. All other avenues which might have led to the missing Ronnie Weitcamp had dwindled to nothing. Anything that might lead to his recovery was worth trying at that stage of the search.
On the night of October 24, 1955, I broadcast the strange story of Lady Wonder and her replies to questions about Ronnie Weitcamp.
I was the target for editorial ridicule from various newspapers in central Indiana. There was some very pointed criticism, tinged with sneers, from one of the Naval Depot officials who insisted that the missing child was still alive and had been kidnapped.
The weeks dragged along without a trace of little Ronnie.
Then, on the afternoon of Sunday, December 4, two teen-age boys found Ronnie’s body. Authorities determined that Ronnie had been dead when Lady Wonder said he was dead; that he had not been kidnapped; that he had died of exposure shortly after he disappeared. The child’s body was found in a thicket in a brushy gully or ravine, in sandy soil, a little more than a mile from where he was last seen. There were a few saplings in the vacinity; the nearest tree was an elm about thirty feet from the body. And the child was found in December, just as Lady Wonder had predicted many weeks before.
To those who were familiar with this unusual mare and her past performances, the case of Ronnie Weitcamp was an old, old story. To me, it was by all odds the strangest story that I had ever reported in my thirty-one years of news broadcasting.