2009-04-29 / Columnists
Pets, Pets, Pets
"Twist" in the Sensation Search: While hunting for the location of the long gone Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) clubhouse in Babylon, we've been visualizing the veranda facing east, overlooking Southards Pond. A recent clue has sparked mental "Hokey Pokey". We're shiftingthe whole clubhouse 90 degrees to the right, and now facing it south. Turning the clubhouse both clarifies and clouds information already uncovered. The clubhouse was part of a clubhouse/shooting house complex so this revised thinking is more than a change of scenery. From 1880 to 1904, besides breeding and boarding champion dogs here, Westminster hosted pigeon shoots, often with the scores recorded in the NY Times. If the clubhouse did face Alexander (or Southards Lane, as it was called long ago) the gunners fired east out over the pond, a direction we long disputed, but now accept. (Are you new to the Sensation saga? About 20 "Pets" columns are archived online, while Beacon Feb. 5, 2009 gives a quicker synopsis.) The Buried Clue: "Pets" March 19, 2009 cited evidence that in 1887 Sensation, WKC's logo Pointer, died at age 13 in Babylon. His final resting place was at the foot of a flagpole on the front lawn of the clubhouse near the shooting house. The flagpole had a Pointer weather vane. Westminster owns a close-up photo of the flagpole with a handwritten inscription on the back saying the flagstaff marks the burial of Sensation and "many other Pointers that cost a mint of money and were the greatest of their day". (A stone on the right is the grave of a female Pointer named "Whiskey".) We spend a lot of time looking at old maps and pictures, trying to piece the puzzle together. Sometimes we stumble on a detail we've missed. That's what happened with the same close-up flagpole photo which appears on page 21 of Mr. Stifel's book-The Dog Show: 125 Years of Westminster. When I asked about the picture, Mr. Stifel found something that technological enhancement confirmed.In jest he compared his discovery to a far-fetched movie where a man denies ever meeting the woman he murdered although a snapshot he took of her when enlarged showed his reflection in the cornea of her eye. Esteemed WKC historian Mr. Stifel zoomed-in on copies of the page 21 photo focusing on the stationary NSEW under the Pointer weather vane. He couldn't believe what he saw. Since the resolution was still a bit blurry, he fetched the original from the WKC files and took the slightly torn artifact to a color lab. Theresults were crystal clear. Keep in mind that Mr. Stifel is extremely analytical. He has examined our clues from every angle- even trying to interpret the wind direction references in various pigeon shoot accounts. He drew a floor plan of the clubhouse based on remarks in four 19th C. journals and sketched a map of where each artist and/or photographer must have stood to capture particular glimpses of the buildings and property. Based on the position of the shooting house we see in this picture, Mr. Stifel realized that the N of the weather vane is pointing to the (unseen) front door of the clubhouse which means that the clubhouse faced almost due south. The shooting house, perpendicular and forward, would be overlooking the pond. Gunners aimed east over the water but the dogs did not retrieve birds. "As the Clubhouse Turns": How does this new direction theory jive with other findings? The 1928 aerial photo plus the 1902 and 1915 Hyde maps seem to agree. Theclubhouse was 40' by 60' and the long part of the funny rectangle faces south on all of these. The1918 aerial shots taken by a WWI bi-plane are similar to reading a sonogram or inkblot. I see what I want to see. These amazing pictures were taken right before the former WKC complex burned down on Oct. 14, 1918, and they suggest a cluster of bright buildings oriented the same way. An 1888 map shows a circular driveway that would serve this positioning. The Ewells bought the property from WKC in 1904. Several Ewell photos show a clematis type vine on the post of the front porch in full bloom. Might the plant thrive from southern exposure? The old journal articles detailing the WKC buildings at times contradict each other, especially about placement of the kennels. Outing June 1888 mentions the "charming view from the upper veranda, which overlooks the pigeon-shooting ground" but no description definitively says all 3 sides of the wraparound porch faced the water. Sticking to My Guns: I still believe the mystery mound east of the bridle path between Gwynn and Pilcher is the clubhouse site. Several native Babylonians ranging in age from 60 - 75 have stated that before the development circa 1955, this mound was an odd, deep depression filled with sand. Theydo not recall any other disturbed places in the woods. Thisspot matches all the old aerials. Why was there an arbitrary, concave sandpit? Had something else, possibly something that had a wine cellar and a huge firebeen there previously? Subsequently people dumped junk there, transforming the deep trench into a raised mound. Thelower area south of the rise could accommodate the shooting house. We took measurements again. The WKC complex would fit,but it would be tight, not as spacious or flat as it looks in photos. A retrospective in the July 18, 1930 Babylon Leader mentions that if the pigeons "escaped the aim of the club members, and flew south, they were usually brought down by a crowd that stood on Southards Lane." If we are right about the sandpit and new orientation, the locals were doing more than waiting for pot shots. Theywere watching the matches from the Westminster bleachers.
For Adoption: Waiting at Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon, "Katie" is an affectionate 4-year old calico, part of a large feline family given up because of an eviction and "Harvey" (aka "Mazey") a lovable red Shepherd mix was abandoned by his owner. Cats: "Phantom" the big tuxedo; "Shirley" a sweet talker. Dogs: red Chow found in Babylon Village; from the Pit collection- Amelia, Hallie & Miss Piggy.