2008-01-02 / Columnists
Pets, Pets, Pets
New Year's Day 1887: Westminster Kennel Club invited members and their guests to a "holiday" pigeon shoot at the clubhouse in Babylon. A special train left Long Island City on arrival of the 9 a.m. from E. 34th Street. Participants were picked up by horsedrawn carriage at Babylon Station, and were assured they'd be back in New York city by 5 p.m. Precise transportation that certainly beats the LIRR today, yet 121 years later, I am still trying to figure out precisely where the Babylon Westminster clubhouse was. So many clues; so many clues that conflict.
This drawing from the Feb. 27, 1892 Harper's Weekly by G. Muss-Arnolt, a well-known artist and dog show judge, places the clubhouse right near Southard's Pond. The rabbit is staring at the water in the lower right hand corner. The smaller building to the left is the shooting house. Between that and the clubhouse is the famed flagpole. Bull's eye- Sensation, Westminster's symbol Pointer was buried under that flagpole in June 1887, six months after the New Year's shoot.
German-born artist Gustav Muss-Arnolt (1858-1927) specialized in oil paintings of sporting dogs in the field. He also wrote, illustrated and photographed several articles for Harper's Weekly. More than 170 of his dog portraits were published in the AKC Gazette. In the early 1900s he was on the Board of Directors of the American Kennel Club which now owns a collection of his oils. Muss- Arnolt exhibited his own Pointers at Westminster and, as an "all round" judge, was on the panel that chose Westminster's Best In Show in 1913 and 1922.
Besides the Babylon clubhouse (which fire destroyed, probably in the 1920s) in this 1892 Harper's piece, Muss-Arnolt also includes detailed sketches of the kennels, Pointboat ers, a huge dining room, hall, dog food prep room, and James Mortimer, Westminster Superintendent of both the Babylon kennels and the prestigious dog show at Madison Square Garden. Oh, yes, busy host, Mr. Mortimer, often picked up the Westminster visitors at Babylon Station. David Frei, Westminster's TV commentator, and I traded treasures. He gave me this article after I sent him copies of old Babylon photos from the Ewell family who purchased the 64 acres with the clubhouse, farmhouse, and kennels from Westminster in 1904. I'm ecstatic about the placement of Muss- Arnolt's pen and ink pond, for it seems to match the clubhouse on the 1902 and 1915 Hyde Atlas maps and my tentative locations in the woods, the strange sandpit, even with Gwynn Street and the flat area down from Pilcher, but jumping (for joy) to conclusions doesn't make it so. Is the pond in the clubhouse sketch accurate or is it "artistic license?" Other historic maps put the clubhouse further back from the water's edge. If only the Harper's contained a Muss-Arnolt clubhouse photo.
In the meantime let's look closely at a newly discovered photo. This picture (circa 1910-1916) is borrowed from the family of James L. Ewell, the next owner of the Westminster property. The sunburst gable over the porch is a distinct feature. (Compare it to the archived "Pets" 3/15/07 photo of the whole clubhouse.) I can only identify the young boy-Birchard Bennett, a Ewell cousin from Connecticut and the dog- Teddy. Draw an imaginary arrow on a diagonal from the smiling lady's ankle, and we should hit Southard's Pond. Throw a ball on a diagonal left and tell Teddy to fetch, and he should reach Sensation's grave. That is, if in 1892, G. Muss- Arnolt decided to draw the real Babylon setting.
"Pets, Pets" Goes to the Garden: I'm excited to report that a version of my 2/8/07 "Pets", the first of 9 Babylon Westminster research columns, will appear this February in Westminster Kennel Club's 2008 Dog Show Media Guide Book, typeset in traditional "Westminster purple". No other color would do.
For Adoption: "Guy" this young Shepherd mix at Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon is ringing in 2008 in hopes that he along with his fellow shelter pets have a brighter New Year. "Guy" in Cage 29 is a big mush who loves belly rubs.
Male Dogs: a Pomeranian being treated for dry eye; an English Setter mix puppy; a Dogue de Bordeaux ("Hooch"); "Huckleberry Hound" Cage 9; Mastiff mix pup Cage 1.
Female Dogs: "Ms. Dingo" Cage 57; Rottie mix Cage 79; "Natasha"- Spaniel/Shepherd Cage 77.
Cat Contingent: "Pumpkin"- large orange declaw; "Faith"- superfriendly tabby in the Cat Colony; "Spice Kitties"- orange hostesses in the lobby.