CHINCOTEAGUE, VA. -- Misty of Chincoteague is stuffed now, glass eyes bulging from a taxidermist's preserved carcass. And the pony barn and pastures where she was tamed have been put up for sale, probably to developers. The fabled wild pony, heroine of the popular children's novel, and later a movie, by Marguerite Henry, has fallen on hard times -- as has the Beebe family fictionalized in the beloved 1947 book. In the intervening years, the legend of Misty drew thousands to the sandy island just off Virginia's eastern shore. Librarians say the simple story of wild horses claimed and tamed caught the imagination of several generations of parents and children. But a visitor to Chincoteague today finds the real-life sequel to be a sad story of progress, commercialization and decay. The Beebes' heir, caught in a spiral of rising property taxes and fixed income, can't afford to maintain the remainder of what islanders call Beebe's Ranch. Meanwhile, tourists come to gawk at Misty's remains for $3 a head. "Misty of Chincoteague" tells of two real children, Paul and Maureen Beebe, who captured the wild pony Phantom and her foal on neighboring Assateague. Eventually they let Phantom return to freedom, but they keep and "gentle" the foal Misty. The real Paul Beebe, who in the novel bravely rescued a panicky Misty from the sea, died in an automobile accident in 1959. He was 21. Maureen Beebe, now widowed and a waitress, still lives on Chincoteague but spends winters with her children in Florida. Islanders said she has no telephone. She sometimes comes to visit the stuffed Misty at the Chincoteague Pony Farm. The ranch, on the southern end of the island, passed from Clarence and Ida Beebe ("Grandpa" and "Grandma" of the novel) to their son Ralph (Paul and Maureen's uncle), who sold off big chunks of the original 150 acres to a mobile home park. Ralph Beebe died in 1973, and what remains of the ranch was willed to his widow, Jeanette. Jeanette Beebe is 70 now, still working as a cook in the Chincoteague High School cafeteria and getting by on Social Security. She said the decision to sell the remaining 13 acres, with Misty's pony stall and pasture, came hard. "I wouldn't never, if I could maintain and keep it," she said. But living alone, and with property taxes now mounting to well over $1,000 annually, "it's getting a little rough on me. And I don't know how much longer I can keep working." The property has fallen into disrepair since her husband died and her children left home. Buttercups and other weeds strew the overgrown pasture, and the pony barn with its ripped screens is filled with old tires and rusty appliances, piled about a faded sign saying "Beebe's Ranch, Home of Misty." Still, Beebe wishes the ranch could regain its former glory. "Of course the pony shed needs repair," she acknowledged, "but it'd be perfect for somebody that had horses." That outcome seems unlikely, according to real estate agents and town officials. The price has been set at $589,000, the going rate for land that can be developed with town houses now sweeping across what was once a tranquil fishing island. The seven-mile-long island has a year-round population of 3,555, according to the Chamber of Commerce, but it swells to almost 45,000 with summer visitors who have made tourism surpass seafood as the main industry. In the past four or five years, town houses have sprouted on all sides of the little town. There are, in fact, five luxury town houses going up just across the road from the Beebe ranch. Nearby on the shore stand "Water's Edge II Town Homes -- Breathtaking View -- Southern Exposure," next to some old cottages, ramshackle guest houses and a rickety sign for "Jester's Decoys." "The price of land is going wacky here on the island," said real estate broker Gary Pierce, with small lots selling for $25,000 to $35,000 and new town houses going for as much as $175,000. With the price set so high, the only interest so far has come from developers, said Lloyd (Jeff) Potts Jr. of Century 21, another native islander who is handling the sale. Potts said he walked the entire property when he first listed it for sale, and felt a flood of memories as he stumbled across deserted pastures and duck ponds. "It's 13 acres of beautiful land that, sorry to say, some developer's going to buy and put condos on," Potts said. He said the only protest has come in a couple of letters to the local newspaper arguing against the sale of a ranch that "helped put Chincoteague on the map." "But those letters all came from newcomers," Potts said. "I guess us natives, as far as town houses and duplexes, we've gotten used to that. It's only, with property like the ranch, kind of a shame it has to come to that." Chincoteague Mayor Harry Thornton, also a native, agrees that development has taken off "faster than anyone imagined" in the past decade. He said land prices and property taxes have risen so fast that some older residents -- about two dozen families, he guessed -- have been forced of late to move to the mainland. And he agreed there has been no local reaction to the sale of Misty's old home. "Land values are up so much, nobody's thinking much of the past," he said. Soon after Ralph Beebe inherited the ranch, he erected a little gift shop, pony ring and concession stand to entertain tourists who flocked to Chincoteague, especially during the annual pony roundup and auction in late July. Potts remembers working there as a teen-ager, selling sodas and giving children rides on Misty. "It was a big family, kids, aunts and uncles," he remembered. "Summer months, it was like a carnival." But Misty died in 1972, and the Beebes turned her over to a taxidermist. Now she resides at the Chincoteague Pony Farm, a tourist attraction off the main drag that also boasts Falabella miniature horses, a miniature mule named Schultzie and nine live Misty descendants. Ruth Calvo, the proprietor, owns most of the descendants but has a contract to show the stuffed Misty and her live foal Stormy, subject of another Marguerite Henry book. Calvo said she pays $800 a year for the contract, with Jeanette Beebe getting a sizable cut. About Misty, Calvo's daughter Celina explained, "Several people think it's a little weird to have her stuffed. Some kids ask, 'Why doesn't she move?' " Celina Calvo, who conducts tours of the pony farm, said she is somewhat critical of the taxidermist's work. "She has a straight back, and she's supposed to be in a canter," Celina Calvo said. Ruth Calvo said Maureen Beebe, scraping along on her waitress salary, comes by fairly often because "she loves the horses." But paying visitors are less plentiful. "It costs $3 to see 19 horses, but some people are too cheap to pay," Celina Calvo said. Marguerite Henry lives in Southern California now, outside San Diego, and said she is busy writing yet another book in the Misty series focusing on one of the pony's offspring. She said "Misty of Chincoteague" has gone through 30 editions in hardback, 15 in paper, with about 1.4 million copies printed to date. People still write her asking for the location of the Beebe Ranch. News that the ranch is up for sale came as a shock to the author. "It has so many memories for me that I can't bear the thought of it," said Henry, reminiscing about the late "Grandpa" Beebe sitting on the porch, pulling his boots on. "I'm not a bit happy with her selling to developers," Henry said. "That should be a shrine."