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2009-10-14 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

Search for Sensation Continues: The Chicago Field article below describes the April 1880 Opening of the Westminster Kennel in Babylon. These festivities (pay particular attention to the lunch paragraph) centered at the 1700s farmhouse already on the land Westminster leased west of Southards Pond. Pigeon shoots took place on the grounds too. This farmhouse which later became the kennel super’s residence was moved in 1884 to make room for the new clubhouse. Sometime later it was moved again to the northwest corner of Livingston Avenue where it is today. Now for the 1880 Grand Opening:

The Westminster Kennel Club opened their new kennel at Babylon on the 13th; but owing to snow and rain and freezing weather of the week previous, the grounds were in rather bad condition, although the arrangements for shooting were almost perfect, the traps working well, and a fine lot of birds on hand, from Philadelphia. There were about twenty members on the grounds, although the day was such as to deter any but those mostly interested in the success of the opening from leaving New York and taking a run of 36 miles into the country.

The site selected by the club as a permanent location is one of the finest on the county. Thehouse stands back from the main road about 150 yards, giving a splendid ground for shooting directly in front of the house. On the east the ground slopes gradually to a lake of about 40 acres; to the north of the stables and kennels is a grove of old oaks of about two acres. The roads to the south and west running through their property keep away any nuisances in the shape of small tenements about the grounds which comprise 27 acres, good cover, and fields to work dogs in, and plenty of birds to break them on; and a distance of only six minutes drive from Babylon depot, and one hour from New York.

The lunch served at one o’clock was of a most substantial kind, and was done ample justice to. Every man tried to do double duty, for himself and absent friends, but notwithstanding, the table at the close of the ceremonies looked like an immense cribbage board, with all the holes filled with bottles instead of pegs. Still there were enough fluids left to make Rome howl on another occasion. Item: one keg of lager stood in the corner of the back room, tolerably neglected, not a person did it the honor of turning the spigot.

Among the members present were General Alexander Webb, Robert C. Cornell, Edward Stanton, Walter Webb, William F. Morgan, Phoenix Remsen, J. Hopkins Smith, C. DuBois Wagstaff. William Tileston, W. Vandervier, T. Dewitt Thompson, Mr. Hitchcock, G. DeForest Grant, Mortimer, and others.

Everyone was pleased with the kennels and voted them perfect in all respects….

(Signed) Tahlulah (Chicago Field, Vol XII, p.118, 3 Apr 1880)

I am still dissecting the original location clues in this rediscovered piece, but for now it is important to note that nine attendees were charter members of Westminster Kennel Club (WKC). These men had fascinating, and sometimes tragic, backgrounds as outlined in William F.Stifel’s The Dog Show: 125 Years of Westminster. Here are several capsule profiles:

* General Alexander Webb, the WKC’s first president, was a Union Civil War general who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor after the Battle of Gettysburg. Later he was the president of the College of the City of NY for 33 years.

*G. DeForest Grant, a banker and Pointer man, sailed to England in 1876 to acquire a fine Pointer to represent the club. He found “Don”, rechristened “Sensation”, whom he thought was the best dog he had ever seen. Sensation lived up to his name.

* Robert C. Cornell was a lawyer and the club’s legal counsel. Cornell took care of Sensation, who is still the symbol of Westminster, when the Pointer was retired from exhibition. In June 1887, Sensation died in Babylon and was buried beneath the flagpole in front of the new clubhouse.

*William Tileston, international businessman and editor, was manager of the WKC show this fateful year. In May, shortly after the 1880 Babylon celebration, Tileston was standing by Madison Square Garden which was being refurbished when the entrance collapsed. He was killed by the rubble. Walter Webb, half-brother of the General and also at the Babylon opening, was show chairman. He escaped with a broken leg and bruises. Three women passing by also died in this freak accident.

* James Mortimer, expert on all things canine, was not a charter WKC member, but rather superintendent of both the Babylon kennels until 1892 and of the WKC dog show until his death in 1915. He lived in this farmhouse after it was moved the first time. A 1930 Babylon Leader retrospective said that when Mortimer went into the Village, he was “always accompanied by half a dozen dogs.”

* Last but not least, member C. DuBois Wagstaff is the reason there was a Babylon Westminster. He owned Tahlulah Kennels in West Islip, found the 64 acres near Southards for WKC, designed the new clubhouse, and bought the acres north of the WKC land as his own. He is buried in Babylon Rural Cemetery several rows away from D. Downs the man who sold WKC the land. Wagstaff must have written this article for the Chicago Field. Check out the signature.

For Adoption: The dogs at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon would appreciate someone like Mortimer to bring them home. Last weekend a Puggle with an unregistered microchip was found at Southards Pond. Our poster dogs include a male Cairn mix and a senior Cocker Spaniel. Even though her spaying and dentistry were the day before, this sweet Cocker became “enchanted” in her Snow White costume. She is a wiggly wagger and loves everyone, including kids.

More Dogs: 2 white Pomeranians; “Roxy” brindle mix Cage 25; “Hallie” white Pit Cage 38; “Bernie” Shepherd mix Cage 8; “Teddy”-Golden mix Cage 6.

Cats: Siamese mix with extra toes; “”Slim Jim” in maternity; “Winston”- black beauty.

*Don’t Forget: “Meet the Breeds”- Oct. 17-18-Javits Center in NYC (www.meetthebreeds. com)

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