We all know the lyrics—and have likely heard them several times this holiday season. "Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh, o'er the fields we go, laughing all the way . . . ."
Although it may be fun to sing this sleighing song, we may not stop to think that cruising the snowy countryside in a one-horse open sleigh was the preferred method of winter-time transportation for many late-19th and early-20th century Midwesterners. Midwesterners like Mayo founder William Worrall Mayo, M.D. And cruise he did, apparently.
A new Mayo Clinic Heritage Days exhibit in the Mathews Grand Lobby of the Mayo Building in Rochester shares one particularly memorable experience when Dr. W. W. Mayo was driving his cutter-style sleigh to visit a patient back in 1873. After urging "his spirited horse around a corner" a little too quickly, the exhibit states "the rig skidded across the street, unceremoniously dumping the doctor into the snow." The good doctor "jumped to his feet and chased his horse for a block down Broadway." A passerby joined the chase, helping Dr. Mayo get his horse back "under control" so that he could "proceed on his rounds." That slowed him down only briefly. Later, "perhaps because of his incident—and his well-known penchant for speed," the exhibit states, Dr. Mayo developed "an early type of seatbelt to help him stay in place" on his future sleigh rides.
Such was the life of a frontier physician. A life that you can get a taste of for yourself in the new exhibit, which we're told features a cutter-style sleigh similar to the one driven by Dr. Mayo. The sleigh was "owned for generations" by the family of retired Mayo Clinic staffer Barbara Mestad. It was acquired for heritage displays with funds from benefactors John and Lillian Mathews and was on display through January 2, 2019, in the Mathews Grand Lobby.
The display includes interesting tidbits on frontier medicine and vintage cutters, which the exhibit notes differ from traditional horse-drawn sleighs by being smaller, snugger, and built closer to the ground. It also features a unique look at the center of holiday hospitality that was Mayowood, the country home of Dr. Charles and Edith Mayo.
Mayo Clinic Heritage Hall Director and vintage cutter sleigh aficionado Matt Dacy takes us through a video walk-through of the exhibit below: