2009-08-05 / Columnists
Pets, Pets, Pets
Search for Sensation Continues: Biplanes and Sensation, the world's most famous Pointer…How do they connect? Actually World War I planes provide a vital clue to the whereabouts of the Westminster Kennel Club clubhouse (1880- 1904) in Babylon, and ultimately to Sensation's grave right in front of it. (For the Cliff Notes on my continuing Westminster search, see "Pets" Record online Feb. 4, 2009.)
Two rare aerial photos taken
over Great South Bay, Argyle Lake and Southards Pond by the 277th Aero Squad might very well pinpoint the former clubhouse shortly before it burned to the ground on Oct. 14, 1918. So fortuitous. What's the chance that 91-year-old photos this specific would still exist? What's the chance that they would capture the exact spot I have been researching at the right time?
It boggles the mind that 1918 pictures over the Westminster/ Babylon area of interest were found by the "right people" since there are so few WWI aerial shots taken over Long Island. The Cradle of Aviation Museum only owns some giving views over Mitchell Field. What's more amazing is that these photos were discovered quite by accident by our eagle-eyed Town historians while interviewing Joy Torrey of Babylon Village for the Town's oral history project.
Mrs. Torrey showed Mary Cascone, Town Archivist, and Tom Smith, Town Historian, an incredible album that belonged to Captain R. Hamilton Torrey, her father in law, a WWI flyer and commander of the 277th Aero Squadron. Only two pictures had "Babylon" captions. The rest were taken elsewhere. (Capt. Torrey lived in several Babylon Village homes from 1925 until his death in 1962.)
Before we examine the fabulous photos, here's a little background on the 277th Aero Squadron which only existed in 1918 and disbanded soon after the armistice, making it easy to date these "undated" photos: The 277th was organized at Love Field in Texas and airmen waited for orders to join flyers in France. When the 277th came to Garden City on July 29, 1918, half the squadron went overseas and the rest established Brindley Field in Commack where they were kept on alert until WWI ended. The 277th was completely demobilized by Jan. 1919. However, that winter two airmen died in the terrible flu epidemic of 1918.
Other treasures inside the Torrey album include a newspaper clipping about one of the planes crashing on the way to the Victory Day celebration in Prospect Park. Police hadn't cleared kids off a baseball field, so the pilot ditched the plane. No one was hurt. There's also an invitation for a Nov. 22, 1918 dinner at the "Bijoux" honoring Capt. Torrey and the 277th with a dance card that still has a lady's name penciled in for a fox trot.
The Fabulous Fotos: Both photos display the biplanes. In fact this one, labeled "277th A.S. Formation Flying over Babylon Long Island" even has a shadowed wing of the plane that shot the picture. Though interpreting these snapshots is a bit like reading a sonograph or a gypsy's tea leaves, both clearly show Southards Pond in the foreground leading into Argyle Lake (same two islands are still there) emptying into Carll's River and finally into the Great South Bay.
Livingston Avenue, then Litchfield, parallel to the west side of Southards Pond, help to judge distance. TheWestminster "jackpot" is directly below the tail of the bigger biplane. A bright complex of buildings (former clubhouse and shooting house, I presume) sits near the southwest corner of the pond. However, in 1918 the Westminster buildings had been converted into MacLevy's controversial health farm. The structures are precisely where my suspected sandpit is now and match the 1928 and 1938 aerial photo clearings.
Blown up versions of these biplane shots reveal faint driveways. Both 1918 pictures show the familiar Yshaped path that seems to lead toward the Westminster superintendent's house, presently on the other side of Livingston. Clubhouse orientation matches Westminster historian Mr. Stifel's new theory that the clubhouse faced south, based on a close up of the weather vane marking Sensation's grave (See ""Pets" Post Apr.29, 2009). The other 1918 aerial (not shown) marked "Babylon & Great South Bay" goes as far north as Old Farmingdale Road. If the cameramen had aimed a few seconds earlier or later, none of this crucial evidence would have been captured on film.
Seeking a Flyover Date: These 277th Aero Squadron aerials had to be taken between late July and December 1918. The tree foliage, however, makes it more likely that the photo was taken during the summer. I examined South Side Signal microfilm to see if the newspaper mentioned this flyover. If located, a listing would have to be before the October fire. So far I have only found a news brief dated Aug. 23, 1918 about a stunt flyer leaving Belmont Field to perform somersaults and nose dives over Babylon's Main Street. Belmont Field would be Camp Damm. Major August Belmont Jr. leased his N. Babylon horse training track to the government as a flying field the last few months of WWI. Therefore, this single stunt plane would not be from the 277th, but oddly, the Signal typed the "t" in the word "pilot" upside down, just like this somersaulting barnstormer.
For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270): This chubby male Beagle in Cage 21 is an outgoing guy. The shelter is located at 51 Lamar St. W. Babylon. Other dogs include: "Phelps" Cage 5 Retriever mix who swam the Babylon canal ; a young Husky mix Cage 13; "Bernie" older Shepherd mix Cage 8; "Sushi"- a 4 yr. Shiba Inu Cage 45; "Hallie" Cage 38-Pit mix, longest shelter resident.
Cats: "Lucy"- solid white; "Wilson"- solid black- both loves from the same eviction; "Katie"-tabby kitten, owner died; "Sugar Daddy"- C-3- Russian blue type schmoozer.
Special Thanks to: Mr. Clifford Lane and the staff at Data Device Corp. in Bohemia for their generous donation to Last Hope Animal Rescue. The company's "Dress Down Day" raised several thousand dollars.