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By Bob Dunn and Gary Kline

No doubt our first horseshoe pitching celebrity was Frank Jackson. Several heroes and celebrities appeared as the world tournaments were established. But as the world tournaments were forming and other states were starting to hold state tournaments, the state of Ohio had already held a number of state events. And, Ohio had a hero, an icon of the sport. To get the whole story of Hughie Palmer, a request needed to be made to recent Hall of Fame inductee and NHPA historian, Gary Kline. Gary did a super job by providing a copy of an actual newspaper article dedicated to Mr. Palmer. This material is taken from a 1935 newspaper article by Phil Detrich (Akron, Ohio).

We learn as we read about Hughie Palmer, not only was he a champion pitcher, he influenced the game through other pitchers. In the newspaper article that Gary provided, Palmer is credited for introducing the 'turn shoe'. For those keeping tract, it now appears that Mr. Palmer preceded Mr. May for that honor.


Hughie Palmer was born in Durham, England in 1856. He moved to the America at the age 26, with skills in pitching quoits. Despite his proficiency in quoits, he wasn't satisfied; he sensed the possibilities in horseshoes as a substitute, a more practical substitute, so Palmer began experiencing.

The ordinary shoes used on horses weren't heavy enough. Hughie had Towsley, a veteran blacksmith, forge a pair, carrying more heft in the calks and heel. The new shoes presented a new problem from that of pitching quoits. He soon overcame it. By holding the shoes a certain way, Hughie discovered that they would revolve 1¼ times and carry to the peg with the opening forward. Dropping on ringers became relatively easy.

"He could," said his son Jack Palmer, "lay a piece of paper the size of a dime at the point where he wanted his shoe to land, and cut it half."

In 1918, when Hughie was 62 years of age, an Ohio State Championship tourney was held and the grizzled pitcher finally got his chance. He met horseshoe artists, some of them young enough to be his grandsons, but the years that stiffened his joints Hughie Palmer had not taken the cool accuracy of his game. Hughie won the state title.

The following summer he represented B.F. Goodrich Company in the national tournament at Gary Indiana, and again beat off the challenge of the youngsters.

However, it wasn't in the books for Hughie to win the prize he coveted most - a national horseshoe crown. Sensing youth would eventually overcome age, the granddaddy of barnyard golf might of kept the secret of the open shoe to himself, but Hughie like Barrie's Bill Crichton, played the game, he passed on his knowledge on to others.

Akron firemen stationed at the No. 1 engine house on Broadway between Mill and Market Streets, took up horseshoe pitching and Hughie began to pay frequent visits to their courts. There he met, among others, a brawny armed fellow whose name was George May.

That was in 1919. May had just become interested in the game and Hughie liking the chap, took him in hand. William Weis (history note- Weis was the NHPA's first president in 1919) another horseshoe-minded Akronite, gave May a pair of regulation shoes. The lessons began.

May proved an apt pupil. Spring gave way to summer’s blazing sunshine and, behind the firehouse, he perspired over hour upon hour of pitching. The skin on his thumb and two forefingers toughened and his open shoes rang a merry tune of ringers. Palmer, grand old war horse that he was, smiled over his pupil's progress, even while the death knell sounded to his hopes for further conquest.

Teacher and pupil entered the state championship at Columbus, Ohio, that summer. Palmer was the defending champion but his pitching arm did not match that of the new phenom he had developed. The two met, the best six games out of 11 and may swept away to overwhelming victory - six straight games!

St. Petersburg, Florida, was the scene of a national tournament in February 1920. Hughie spent days and weeks and months over his shoes. They seemed to work as well as ever, so he entrained for the south. Other great horseshoe pitchers were there. Joe Wilkinson and Scotty Rowan, both of Akron were in the lists, and George May was on hand.

The odds were too great, Hughie Palmer was forced to be content with fourth place finish behind May in first and Rowan and Fred Brust of Columbus in a tie for second. Palmer a disappointment in his heart but a smile on his lips, congratulated his conquerors and returned home.

George May will tell you that Palmer was the cleanest sport he ever knew. “I should have liked him to win a national title” he says, a note of regret, “But youth got ahead of age there.”

The aged sportsman had been pensioned by the Goodrich Company a short time before 33 years of service and its predecessor, the Diamond Rubber. He lived for his horseshoes.

Hughie wanted one of his four sons to follow in his footsteps, but none of them cared enough for the game. Jackie Palmer became instead the bantamweight boxing champion of Ohio, and his son Jackie Jr. went on to take the Akron title in the same weight division. So Hughie in any event became the patriarch of a sporting family.

He was the oldest champion in any branch of the sport in the country with the possible exception of the ancient pedestrian, Edward Payson Weston.

“Dad was more a playmate than a father,” Jackie, gray-haired himself, recalls with a faint smile. “Despite his years, he was still a pretty fair hand on a baseball diamond or in a swimming pool.” “Up until his death, he had a horseshoe court in the back yard. I guess he never gave up on the hope of turning one of his boys into a pitcher. Why the November before he died, dad was coaching me in the 1¼ and 1¾ turns.”

Hughie Palmer contracted pneumonia and died March 6, 1935. Barnyard golf lost its granddaddy.

The state of Ohio provided an incredible list of founders and star pitchers in the formation of our sport. In the years that followed there was Donnie Roberts. This article is dedicated to his memory.