2007-09-19 / Columnists
Pets, Pets, Pets
The Dogs & the Kennels: Part 6 of the Babylon Westminster Kennel Clubhouse Search
Pointer Paradise-100 years ago Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) clubhouse stood in the Babylon woods. My hometown's connection to the canine elite still gives this dog lover chills. Over the last 8 months while I've been reporting my ongoing hunt for the exact location of the WKC sportsman's clubhouse which includes the gravesite of "Sensation", Westminster's famous logo Pointer, I've written a lot about the WKC clubhouse but until this week noted little about the kennels or illustrious dogs who romped right here from 1880 to 1904. (For background on the WKC clubhouse, see these 2007 online archived Beacon "Pets" columns- 2/8; 3/15; 4/11; 5/ 17; 8/16 or contact me for copies.)
Sources: Details here about the dogs and kennels come from 2 old articles- The Sportsman's Journal March 13, 1886 by Jacob Pentz and Outing June 1888 by Charles S. Pelham-Clinton; William Stifel's The Dog Show 125 Years of Westminster; and microfilm of our first local newspaper The South Side Signal.
The Pointers: (Space permits the mention of just a few.) At first WKC was primarily a Pointer club. As a field and show champion plus a prolific stud dog, the immortal "Sensation", imported from England in 1876, did much for the Pointer breed in this country. He became a symbol of the club from its start in 1877; an emblem of Sensation in full point should be familiar to anyone who has every seen the prestigious WKC dog show. Sensation spent his retiring years here, and in June 1887 was buried beneath the Babylon clubhouse flagpole, "alongside many other Pointers that cost a mint of money and were the greatest of their day". The pole had a Pointer weather vane atop, pointing into the wind.
"Bang Bang" became his successor from 1887-89. Pentz wrote: "Bang Bang's eyes are intelligent, dark hazel in color, and with a peculiar soft dreamy expression that is sometimes noticed in the human family." An oil painting by J. M. Tracy of these 2 celebrated Pointers hung in the clubhouse as part of the vast art collection. WKC paid $1,700 for the next stud dog -"Naso of Kippen". He reigned until 1891. ("Bang Bang" and "Naso of Kippen" are shown in this photo from Outing 1888.)
As for the lady Pointers, the notable bitches included "Moonstone" from England and her daughters "Madstone" and "Luckystone" both whelped in the US. When Pentz visited Babylon in 1886 "Luckystone" was nursing a healthy litter by old Sensation despite the cold weather. At that time Superintendent James Mortimer was in charge of over 100 dogs of various breeds on the 64 acre property adjacent to Southards Pond. Mortimer was also the Superintendent of the WKC dog show at Madison Square Garden until his death in 1915.
Other Breeds: WKC members had the right to board any breed they fancied at the Babylon kennels so there were also plenty of St. Bernards, Collies, Spaniels, Setters and Terriers. The dogs would play together, about a dozen at a time, in the 1/2 acre high picket fenced enclosures. I found a notice of a $10 reward offered by Mortimer in the Jan. 1887 Signal for a lost female curlycoated Retriever. There are also 1881 newspaper accounts by WKC members of Sankey, a Spaniel, saving Wasp, a Skye Terrier, from drowning in Southards Pond.
The Kennels: When WKC first leased the land in 1880, existing barns left over from the 1700s were converted into kennels. Later they built a 19th C. state of the art set up. The kennels were behind the clubhouse, with large runways behind both the male and female runs, a central feed room, and about 15 breeding boxes. All sleeping benches were raised some feet off the ground which was covered with dry cement floors. The cement floors prevented the ravages of moisture- disease and arthritis, especially since the clubhouse predated Rimadyl, glucomsamine, and other modern veterinary remedies.
Mortimer, also born and bred in England, had long experience in canine matters and an excellent reputation as a kennel caretaker. Babylon's Westminster was free of mange, the scourge of all large kennels. Pentz paid him a grand compliment: "With so many dogs to look after, the care required to keep them in fine order is not even imagined by the ordinary doglover."
Latest Clue to the Site of the WKC Clubhouse: Babylon Village Historical Museum has a 1915 map with a close up view of the WKC property after it was sold to J. L. Ewell. More to follow, after I get my hands on a trundle wheel. (At times I wish I still taught math.)
Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon is full of friendly dogs and cats needing loving homes. "Fergie" in Cage 71 is a 13 mon. black Lab with lots of energy yet eager to please. She just needs some training. I named "Caras" this stray Bloodhound in Cage 43 after the late Roger Caras, to try to bring him luck finding a NEW breed experienced home. It seems an insult to his breed that an owner could lose a Bloodhound, the dog that has found and saved so many people, and not go searching for him. "Caras" deserves much better.
•Females: tri-color Border Collie mix Cage 81; skinny Shepherd Cage 57; docile Pit Cage 55; "Faith" & "Jewel" dynamic cat duo in C-9.
•Males: "Buster"- chubby chocolate Lab mix Cage 21; sad Hound Cage 9; "Shadow"- small black Lab Cage 37; Ridgeback mix -loves to play ball Cage 79; fabulous gray tabby kitten in C-10. He does "happy feet" when you hug him.