2009-01-21 / Columnists
Pets, Pets, Pets
"When shall we three meet again?" Macbeth (Act 1, Scene 1)
My search for the Babylon grave of Westminster Kennel Club's emblematic Pointer, Sensation, goes off on another tangent. While investigating a different dog in a vintage photo, I've come upon the "Case of the Curious Collie" which ties to Westminster, Shakespeare, the NY Times and Lassie. Let me try to explain.
First the Cliff Notes, if you have missed the 19 "Pets" columns that have detailed my home town hunt for the "Hund" Holy Grail, here goes: From 1880 to 1904 Westminster had a clubhouse, shooting grounds, and kennels that held up to 200 dogs on 64 acres west of Southards Pond in Babylon Village. Sensation the symbol of Westminster was buried there under the flagpole in 1887. The former clubhouse burned down in 1918 while it was rented as a controversial health retreat. I'm still trying to pinpoint the exact site, narrowed it down to two; gut feeling draws me to 1 suspicious sandpit. Until I started poking around in 2006, few knew about Westminster's presence here. (All the research is available online at www. babylonbeacon.com. Just type in "Westminster".)
In 1904 when NYS outlawed pigeon shooting, Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) sold the property to businessman James L. Ewell who turned it into an orchard. He also raised Shetland ponies. Family photos borrowed from Ewell's great granddaughter give close up hints; some have dates or captions; others are blank. The charming, scalloped and mounted photo shown here depicts a man between a St. Bernard and Collie pup. "When shall we meet again" is curiously penciled on top.
Initially I thought this picture was a remnant of WKC's tenure in Babylon because, besides the famed Pointers, WKC kept prized St.Bernards, Collies, (plus assorted Terriers, Retrievers and Spaniels) here. In 1892, WKC moved most of the dogs except for the stud dogs. Closer inspection shows a faint brown pony in the background. A similar pony appears in other Ewell photos.
I've shown the pictures to dog savvy people. Each notices different details. Barbara Kolk, the AKC librarian cautioned me not to jump to conclusions. The St. Bernard/Collie combo must have just been a coincidence, or a reflection of popular breeds of the time. Besides she said the Collie was far from "show" quality. Therefore, these two dogs were probably Ewell pets some time after 1904 instead of WKC champions some time before that.
At Westminster last year, Kim Thornton, former editor of Dog Fancy, remarked that the quote on top came from Macbeth. At the start of the play the witches are wondering: "When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?" Intriguing, but since the photo wasn't the iconic Pointer, Sensation, I put it on the back burner until I stumbled on something else, equally intriguing.
Perusing microfilm or digitalized historic newspapers is a treasure hunt. Months ago when doing a "Ewell" Key Word Search in the NY Times archives I practically fell off the chair when I spied a missing dog ad dated Dec. 4, 1906:.
"LOST-At Babylon, NY handsome collie, black, white and tan; 18 months old, good size, name Togo. Suitable reward for return to J. L. Ewell, Babylon, L.I.". (This ad also ran Dec.6th & 9th.)
Does the mystery photo show the lost Collie? "Togo", I presume. Was the quote from Macbeth added as a lament after his disappearance? Why advertise a missing Babylon dog in the NY Times, without even a phone contact? I have the 1906 Babylon directory. J.L. Ewell of 'Kennel Club Rd.", wherever that might have been, had 119-J as his listed phone number.
I looked in the local South Side Signal. Couldn't find any plea for Togo. Put it on the back burner again. Then it dawned on me that the Collie may have been missing longer. I back tracked in the microfilm, and, presto, listed only once on Nov. 24, 1906, two weeks before the Times classified, the Signal adds a new puzzle piece:
"LOST- SCOTCH COLLIE, BLACK tan and white. Good size, white tip on tail, answers to the name of Togo. Also found a black and tan Scotch collie. Suitable reward. J.L. Ewell - Babylon"
So it seems in searching for Togo, the Ewells acquired another missing Collie. Did they find the second Collie's owner? Meanwhile the dog in the mystery photo seems to be the original Togo. He's tri-colored, but not a "show quality" tri. There's no further mention of Togo in the Times or Signal. Did this Lassie ever come home? More pressing, am I ever going to find Sensation and the site of the WKC clubhouse?
Time to return to Macbeth. Time to ask the witches in Act 1, Scene 1. "When shall we three meet again….when the hurly-burly's done. When the battle's lost and won. There will be ere the set of sun. Where the place? Upon the heath." Sounds like a clue. OK. Might the suspicious, overgrown sandpit I have my eye on be Babylon's equivalent of a Scottish highland heath? Stay tuned.
For Adoption: "Duncan" the friendly poster pup at Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon is a unique-looking fellow, a little bit Airedale, a little bit Irish Wolfhound. This young stray in Cage 17 came close to being hit by a train. Thankfully he froze when he heard the railroad whistle, and then responded when the Animal Control Officer clapped her hands. Duncan is just one of many deserving dogs and cats waiting to be "First Pet" in your household. Females: "Rambo", yes, Rambo is a girl- a1 year old friendly tabby C-3; "Yum Yum"- longhaired gray senior cat C-1; purebred Chow Cage 32. Males: "Chico" smooth St. Bernard mix Cage 13; Pointer/Pit Cage 1; "Jack"- Retriever mix pup Cage 14; brindle Collie mix Cage 19.
** "Winter Dollar Sale" to benefit Last Hope Animal Rescue on Sat. Jan. 31 from 10 am to 2 pm at St. Bede's Church 220 Berry Hill Rd. Syosset. Everything must go. 516-731-6750.