2008-06-18 / Columnists
Pets, Pets, Pets
"Search for Sensation" Part 17- Blazes!
"Search for Sensation" Part 17- Blazes!
I did chase the wrong fire that destroyed the Westminster Kennel Club in Babylon. Now we know for sure that the building that had been Westminster's sportsmen's paradise burned to the ground on Oct. 14, 1918. We also know that a controversial character running it as a health club/pig farm combo was living there at the time. The real fire was 5 years earlier than I first reported (online Beacon 1/31/08 "Pets"); doubts began in the 3/20 "Pets" when a Babylon Leader 1923 brush fire account
with a Livingston/Litchfield discrepancy turned up later. Finding the Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) 1884-1904 clubhouse site in Babylon isn't a vertical archaeological dig, therefore, clues present themselves in a haphazard and incomplete way. Meanwhile, I'm still not sure whether this huge 1923 brush fire from Pinelawn engulfed the empty kennels and/or precipitated the move of WKC's farmhouse across Livingston to its present location.
History is no different from searching for a "lost earring". You find tangential things when you are looking for something else. Microfilm goes by in a flash; it's easy to miss the mother lode. Astute Tom Smith, Babylon Town's historian, while researching Camp Damm, August Belmont Jr.'s WWI airfield, stumbled on a front page headline in the 10/18/1918 South Side Signal: "FIRE DESTROYS ONCE FAMOUS CLUBHOUSE Ewell Place at N. Babylon Long Occupied by the Westminster Kennel Club, Burned to the Ground Monday." Definitive proof.
The Signal goes on to say that Ewell owned the property, but for the past 3 years MacLevy occupied it as a "physical cultural sanitarium" (more about that soon), and that Mrs.MacLevy residing in the cottage (shooting house, I presume?) upon retiring noticed a glow in the sky. She and Mr. M realized the east roof of their home was ablaze and that the main clubhouse was in flames. The super at the clubhouse and 4 other oblivious occupants were rescued in time. Only Mrs. M's piano (same one in this 1918 Ewell bungalow/shooting house photo?) and a few other furnishings
were spared. MacLevy was also raising pigs there (oh, no, not in the esteemed WKC kennels) but was about to move his hogs to Hempstead. Firemen responded, but could do nothing without a water supply (problematic because I put it 200 feet from the pond). A defective clubhouse flue is blamed; damages estimated at $15 thousand.
One more intriguing clue: WKC property was originally the Alexander Brown farm. Brown pre-dates WKC and D.H. Down their seller. A marker on an 1858 map shows Brown's farm at the SW corner of Southards, just south of my theorized sandpit.
Trust me; MacLevy is worth the wait….another newspaper account first. It appears the fire story wasn't picked up by the NY Times, although every WKC pigeon shoot score is, and a 1915 Times mentions a rich youth who vanished in the woods after being sent to MacLevy's Babylon retreat to recover from a nervous breakdown . Fire's not in the Amityville Record, nor Huntington's Long Islander. No one seems to have a 1918 copy of the LI Sun. The lovely librarian at Brooklyn Public who has helped me before (and found an interesting MacLevy parallel) is presently searching the Brooklyn Daily Eagle microfilm. That leaves the nearest and the dearest- the Babylon Leader. Since 1918 is not on microfilm, the only existent paper volume in the world is stored in Village Hall. Mary Cascone, Town archivist, kindly scribed it for me: "FIRE DESTROYS FORMER WESTMINSTER KENNEL CLUB House Lately Occupied by Professor MacLevy as Health Farm a Total Loss" Leader 10/18/1918 front page goes on to confirm that Ewell leased the mansion to MacLevy 2 or more years before; the fire started in the clubhouse chimney; firemen, under Chief Kraft, were helpless without a water supply; and that the Professor (MacLevy's alter ego) was using it as a health farm for his patients. This time losses are put at $40 thousand, only 1/3 insured.
Both articles describe the Westminster Kennel Club's elaborate quarters, the fine dogs and shooting matches held here in days gone by. The Leader laments the "fanatical" legislation that banned pigeon shoots and the loss to Babylon's merchants when the wealthy WKC members left town.
Ironically, my 5/22 "Pets" recently showed a 1918 WW1 bi-plane aerial photo over Southards Pond with several "suspicious" looking smudges (clubhouse complex??)
near the sandpit area of interest, approximate spot Dr. Davis took ground penetrating radar readings
(4/10/08 "Pets"). Magnified these images look promising but fuzzy, somewhat like a sonogram. We now know the 277th Aero Squadron flew out of Brindley Field in Commack from July 29 'til Dec. 31, 1918, disbanded when WWI ended. If the aerial shows the clubhouse, the photo had to be taken some time before the Oct. 14, 1918 fire. The foliage on the trees suggests summer. Coming Attractions: Sorry, you'll have to tune in next week for the lowdown on mysterious MacLevy and his strange physical cultural sanitariums. It seems over time, he may have had 3 that burned in Babylon. The search for Sensation, Westminster's premiere Pointer, takes on some new twists. In the meantime, for MacLevy, think Jack LaLanne with overtones of L. Ron Hubbard, and just a dash of Kato Kaelin.
For Adoption: Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon has some wonderful pets waiting for homes. "Riley" is a 1 yr. unique looking Foxhound/Saluki in Cage 27, originally a North Shore Animal League dog. Shouldn't they be coming back for her? The apricot Mini Poodle is sweet but he will need dentistry. Also available- the 2 tiny kittens at the Amityville Heritage Fair. They went back to the shelter disappointed. Males: "Scooby"- a chubby Pit Cage 2; "Simba"- an orange cat with a dowry; "Mousy"- the condo cat in the lobby. Females: "Kelly"-declawed calico; Pit pup.