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2010-03-03 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

From 1880 to 1904 dogs residing on the Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) property in Babylon needed a ride to/from Madison Square Garden for the annual dog show. How did they commute? An 1895 digitalized article states that a pair of champion Pointer passengers returned home by ferry and then aboard the Long Island Railroad accompanied by VIPs and members of the press.

Begun in 1877, Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is the second oldest continuous sporting event in the U.S., one year behind the Kentucky Derby. Long before there were Winnebagos, SUVs or mini-vans, Babylon WKC dogs needed transportation to and from NYC for the big event, held in February for most of its history. There were no bridges or tunnels yet, so how did the canine contenders get to the city? By horse and submarine? By dogsled?

This recently discovered piece, written eight years after the 1887 death of Sensation, WKC’s ubiquitous emblematic Pointer, provides details about transport plus more on the whereabouts and activities of the Kennel Club. It also cites two of Sensation’s replacements riding on a specially scheduled train.

King of Kent by J. M. Tracy, 1901 King of Kent by J. M. Tracy, 1901 With the headline “Shooting Fast Flyers”, an eye witness account in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Feb. 24, 1895 describes a post-dog show pigeon shoot held at the Westminster clubhouse near Southards Pond. Club officials were celebrating the ever-growing success of their recent show. A group of journalists (probably including the anonymous reporter) were among the guests invited to test their rifle skills alongside WKC members in Babylon. The winning press sharp shooter was supposed to carry his prize- an oaken beer keg filled with decanters- back to the city. Precise scores of gruesome pigeon shoots appear often in the Eagle, NY Times and our local papers but the LIRR pedigreed passenger list makes this Brooklyn Eagle piece stand out.

Quoting from the Eagle-“By special invitation of the Westminster Kennel Club, a number of judges, exhibitors, and newspaper men passed some very pleasant hours at Babylon yesterday. A special train was waiting at the Long Island City terminus upon the arrival of the 9:50 ferryboat from Thirty-fourth street, and in some minutes less than an hour, the party found itself rumbling over the iron frost bound and extremely rutty road leading from the village to the home of the Westminster Kennel Club.”

Thereport goes on to say: “About the most attractive of the passengers on the special were the pointers Champion King of Kent and Sir Walter, fresh from their recent triumphs at Madison Square Garden. The older dog is thoroughly well known and was not entered for competition, but Sir Walter has won honors galore during the past week scoring firsts in open and novice classes for dogs 55 pounds or over.”

MTA, note how fast the train/ferry trip was. Over a century later the LIRR can’t get Babylonians to Manhattan in less than an hour. Westminster often booked this special train so that the wealthy sportsmen could be back in the Big Apple by early evening. In April 1900, a Lindenhurst woman was killed and her young son injured by a Westminster express run.

All the strategic buildings have changed too. Westminster had shows in all four incarnations of Madison Square Garden. The1895 dog show was held in MSG II, a Moorish structure on 26th Street, designed with a 300 foot minaret topped by a bronze Goddess Diana statue. The Babylon RR Station at the time of the Pointers’ rail ride opened in 1881 but was demolished in 1964 when the tracks were elevated. Keep in mind that Penn Station wasn’t built until 1910.

Background on the esteemed Pointers aboard: Since Westminster hosted the show; the dogs owned by the club were only displayed in the benching area. They didn’t compete in the ring. During his reign, Sensation too was listed in the WKC catalogue for exhibition only.

At one time there were 200 dogs in the Babylon kennels. However, Westminster was primarily a Pointer club. In 1892 all but the stud dogs left Babylon. King of Kent, shown here in a painting by J. M. Tracy, was Sensation’s successor from 1892 to 1897. This legendary liver & white Pointer was an English import like Sensation. Some felt King of Kent was the greatest Pointer sire of all time.

The acclaimed artist Tracy, also a WKC member, had died two years before. The Eagle article as well as other old journals, mention other Tracy works, including the well known hunting scene of Croxteth and Sensation, which graced the clubhouse dining room wall. This huge painting is presently privately owned. However, the William Secord Gallery just acquired a smaller, authentic photogravure that would sure look lovely in the refurbished Babylon Old Town Hall Museum. Price is reasonable for such a rare treasure. Is anyone listening?

When WKC moved the bulk of the Babylon dogs in 1892, their kennel superintendent James Mortimer transferred to the Hempstead Kennels but continued to be the superintendent of the yearly show until his death in 1915. At that time, WKC hired George S. Mott as their kennel man and pigeon shoot manager. Later he bred his own Pointers nearby. Sir Walter, the other champion on the train, belonged to him. Early Westminster rules separated Pointers into under and over 55 pound groups. TheFeb. 20, 1895 NY Times confirms that Mott’s Sir Walter came in first in the open class for the heavier weight Pointers.

Five years later the Eagle noted another one of Mott’s Pointers, Prince Lad, was found dead in the kennel having choked on a piece of meat. Thenon April 19, 1902 the same paper did a full page spread on his Pointers with plenty of photos. By this time Mott expanded his N. Babylon holdings to 500 acres where the Pointers could perfect their field trial skills. Mott died in 1928 and is buried in Babylon Rural Cemetery, near other local WKC notables.

After discovering the 1895 Brooklyn Eagle clip, I will forever travel from Babylon Station, visualizing King of Kent and Sir Walter on the seat next to me. Rest assured, without constant reminders, these agile Pointers would have gingerly jumped over the “Gap”.

For Adoption at nearby Babylon Town Shelter (631- 643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: The sweet male Cocker Spaniel in Cage 9 certainly could use the talents of a WKC kennel man. He is being treated for neglected skin and ears. Meanwhile “Mandy” is a pretty 2 year old declawed, longhaired calico in the lobby.

Male: “Teddy” dieting Retriever Cage 6; Hound mix Cage 13; “Tuck” declaw-now in the cat colony.

Female: “Piper”- Dobie mix pup; Collie mix Cage 46; “Xena” Neapolitan Mastiff; “Roxy”- brindle beauty Cage 25; “Missy” lovely tabby in lobby.

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