2007-03-14 / Columnists
Pets, Pets, Pets...
Sensation, where art thou? The search for the site of the elusive Babylon Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) clubhouse and the 1887 grave of Sensation, the logo Pointer, continues. No definite location yet; but we've uncovered many clues, since I first mentioned Babylon's connection to Westminster here last month. (For that column, see www. amityvillerecord.com; click "Archives"; then 2/08/07; then "Columnists".) Each new discovery leads to more questions.
To recap, from 1882-1904 Westminster owned a s p o r t s m a n 's club, 64 acres divided into 3 parcels, between Southards Pond and Livingston Ave. Many hunting dogs (including Sensation whose image symbolizes the world's most famous dog show) tracked through Babylon fields and woods. When first leased in 1880, these grounds contained a dilapidated century old farmhouse and barns, converted into the temporary clubhouse and kennels.
In 1884 this old farmhouse (later the WKC superintendent's residence) was moved closer to Livingston and a fancy 40 x 60 foot clubhouse was built where the farmhouse stood, overlooking the pond. How close to Southards? Sensation died in June 1887, and was buried alongside many other well-bred Pointers in front of this new clubhouse under a flagpole topped with a Pointer weathervane. It's become my mission/obsession to find Sensation's grave. I owe it to Westminster, Babylon, and all dog lovers.
In 1904 pigeon shoots were banned in our state, so WKC sold the property to James L. Ewell, and moved to New Jersey. The clubhouse burned down, but when? The Babylon Fire Dept is sifting through minutes of old meetings. Meanwhile, a 1915 Hyde atlas shows the clubhouse and farmhouse on the Ewell land. An undated photo in a scrapbook just found at the Village Museum suggests the fire was around 1925. The blaze may have prompted another move of the farmhouse across the street where it still stands at 358 Livingston, but determining its original spot, and ultimately the location of the clubhouse where Sensation is buried, remains the unsolved mystery.
During the recent WKC show at the Garden, I met William Stifel, Westminster's historian and author of the comprehensive 2001 book- The Dog Show- 125 Years of Westminster, to go over microfilm findings and to give him a copy of the 1902 map recently discovered at Town Hall. While researching his book, Mr. Stifel explored all leads
to the clubhouse. His findings extend far beyond what is printed in the book. He has graciously helped me "think out loud" whenever a local discovery prompts an idea. He visited former owner of the farmhouse in 1998; the present family invited me for a tour last week.
I also met Barbara Kollk, the American Kennel Club archivist. She gave me the June 1888 Outing, a 12 page sporting piece by Charles S. Pelham-Clinton, who vividly describes his visit to the clubhouse. (The photo here of club and flagpole comes from his article.) Another shows James Mortimer, WKC superintendent, with other Pointers, in front of the kennels directly behind the clubhouse. The old kennels had runways between them and 15 breeding boxes. "All these have concrete floors, are admirably dry, and such a thing as kennel lameness is quite unknown." Did any 120 year old concrete survive? A newer kennel was erected in 1887 about a hundred yards south of the old one. Would this rule out a site in the woods as too close to the pond?
An Outing reader can visualize the clubhouse down to the wide veranda with a view of the pigeon grounds and pond, billiard room, distinguished dog oil paintings, including a Sensation portrait, moose/ elk heads mounted in the dining room that could seat 50 at the table and had a "huge fireplace, from which logs throw out an inspiring heat when the winter wind whistles across Long Island and the caloric gets very low." The sideboard held trophies from pigeon shoots while the mantel-board was adorned by silver and pewter cups won at dog shows. "The windows of the dining room have an agreeable outlook, and there is certainly no lack of life in the background, as one gets a good view of the kennels."
However, the hints to the clubhouse whereabouts are ambiguous. The author says that the grounds at Babylon, L.I. were chosen "…after innumerable places had been examined by Messrs, Cornell [Sensation's owner], Morgan, and Wagstaff [of W. Islip society]…The land lies about a mile north-west of Babylon…. The soil is dry, and there is no trouble found in keeping the dogs in perfect health from that reason….A fine pond [Southards] lies south of the clubhouse, which supplies Babylon, as well as the club with ice, and is a delightful adjunct to the scenery." The reference to "south" is confusing because completely "south" would put it up by today's Sunrise Hwy., contrary to most of the maps. Part of the pond seems to be southeast of the clubhouse; one engineer, viewing all the maps, believes this "south" remark is an error. Did the 1888 writer mean to say "east? Which old map is the most accurate? Methinks I need a forensic Bloodhound, the animal psychic suggested by my veterinarian, or a well-bred Babylonian with ties to the past. To be continued….
Coming Soon: Two promising clubhouse sites proposed by Beacon readers.
Back at Babylon Town Shelter (643- 9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon, the adoptable dogs and cats are hoping for the "luck of the Irish". "Patches" a mellow 4 yr. Collie/Akita in Cage 95 is housebroken and good with kids. This adorable 6 mon. Wheaten mix lass in Cage 81 is a new arrival.
+Males: "Spooky"- the Greyhound/ Shepherd mix in Cage 3 who lost his home after an arson fire; "Brewster"- a Retriever mix in Cage 41; "Kobe"- a purebred Boxer in Cage 13; "Sundance"- a handsome orange cat in C-9.
+Females: a Pit mix in Cage 51 who has been waiting patiently for her special someone.