2011-04-20 / Columnists
Pets, Pets, Pets
Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) “set up shop” in Babylon from 1880 to 1904. The WKC clubhouse and kennels sat on 64 acres west of Southards Pond. The Pointer “Sensation,” perpetual Westminster symbol, was buried in front of the clubhouse in 1887. I stumbled on this news almost five years ago.
Precisely where has been the million dollar question. Being handed such a mystery has been a gift from the dog gods. A canine connoisseur couldn’t ask for a more fascinating pursuit. Clues unearthed are reported in over 30 Pets columns, all archived online at amityvillerecord.com, beginning Feb. 7, 2007.
My “Westminster Babylon” PowerPoint program will “debut” at Old Town Hall, the new Town of Babylon Museum on Sat. June 18th at 1 pm. You are invited, more about that soon.
Although we may never mark a definitive spot in the search for Sensation, I am 95% certain of the WKC clubhouse site. If my hunch is not correct, the true location is within a150- foot radius arc to the west or north. The WKC research process has been as rewarding as any discovery. I often wish I were still teaching so I could brainstorm the process with my students, but on the same token, realize retirement gave me the time to go “digging.” Instead, I am expanding my blackboard as I share 11 lessons learned along the WKC way:
#1: Those who should know-don’t. Hopefully, I wrote that without insulting anyone. Your local pet columnist for 28 years was clueless about WKC in Babylon until I read the last line of an article in Dogs in Canada magazine. The officials at Westminster didn’t know exactly where in Babylon; the folks at the Village and Town historical museums, the descendants of the man who bought the property from the WKC and the present occupants of the first clubhouse were unaware of our hometown claim to canine immortality.
#2: Everything you need to know is in the cemetery. These words of wisdom came from Evelyn Ellis, Lindenhurst historian, when we spoke weeks before her 90th birthday. Again, I kick myself that I didn’t know 30 years ago when Babylonians with firsthand WKC knowledge were still living. Dave Southard passed away at age 95 soon after the first WKC column. I called James B. Cooper in Georgia but he was quite ill at the time. He took over as editor of the Babylon Leader in 1940. His father had written editorial praise about WKC’s impact on the Village economy. Incidental clues come from his commentaries.
#3: Clues present themselves in a haphazard and incomplete way (which sadly parallels what police are finding out at Oak Beach.) No one knew what became of the clubhouse until an undated scrapbook belonging to a Babylonian who had died at age 97 showed a clipping of the clubhouse that said it burned down “some 14 years ago.” It took another year to trace the source of that clipping to a retrospective 1935 Leader, and at least another year to learn the fire was really in 1918. Thus, the “14 years ago” in the caption was close, but no cigar. Please date and label your photos for posterity’s sake.
#4: Some clues are heaven sent. By some miracle, old aerial photos of Southards Pond spaced ten years apart do exist. First I viewed the Smithsonian’s 1938s at Town Annex, then the 1928s at Suffolk County planning, and finally the incredible 1918 shots taken from a WWI bi-plane.
#5: Every time a clue surfaces, you need to revisit what you already know, or think you know. New clues can change everything. We thought the clubhouse faced the pond. Only one photo exists of the Pointer weathervane atop the flagpole that marked Sensation’s grave. When Mr. Stifel, WKC historian, blew up the weathervane photo, NSEW arrows sparked a rotation of the clubhouse complex. Now we think the clubhouse veranda faced south, and the gunners at the WKC pigeon shoots fired toward Southards Pond.
#6: Maps, newspapers and microfilm have mistakes and gaps. Of course, these errors concern the information you want. The 1902 Hyde atlas has the only map that names the WKC clubhouse but Southards Pond is not painted, labeled or finished, as if the artist forgot. When I was chasing the wrong clubhouse fire, there was a six month gap in the microfilm. Luckily Babylon Village Hall had an original copy of that Leader buried in the vault, but it needed to be hand-transcribed twice before discrepancies appeared.
#7: The answer is not the obvious, but do not discard the obvious. When news broke that Sensation was buried in Babylon, Leg. Horsley suggested the dog grave at Belmont Lake (which is not the WKC logo Pointer) but does have tangential fame. I have a copy of the first WKC catalogue, so I believe this tombstone marks “Robin,” an important WKC contender. Belmont snuck poor Robin into the 1877 show as both a Gordon and an English Setter.
#8: Assistance comes from experts in many fields. There are too many wonderful people to thank everyone here. Mr. Stifel is an incredible mentor, analyzing discoveries from all angles. Barbara Kolk, former AKC librarian, puts findings in canine context. Dr. Davis, geophysicist from Stony Brook brought his grad students to do GPR (ground penetrating radar) readings of the site. From his Florida home, Don Whalen who grew up near the pond “over 50 years ago” explores every avenue and contacts old friends who may recall details.
#9: Big finds happen when you are looking for something else. Jackie Marsden at the Village Museum, plus Town archivist Mary Cascone and Town historian Tom Smith uncovered WKC treasures. While researching Camp Dam, Tom found microfilm of the clubhouse fire on Oct. 14, 1918, and when recording an oral history, Mary and Tom spied the 1918 aerial photos that I believe pinpoint the clubhouse months before it burned to the ground.
#10: Technology is a friend to amateur archaeologists. As more vintage journals are digitized, distant details are just a keyword search away. However, the online text of our oldest Babylon paper, the South Side Signal, stops at 1879. The WKC moved here in 1880, so it’s back to tedious microfilm.
#11: Log every discovery, every conversation. Milestones are buried inside minutiae. Something that seems meaningless may not have relevance until something else pops up. When I spot an earth shattering tidbit or have a pertinent conversation, the information is so vibrant I swear it will stay with me forever. Every time I read my WKC log, I realize how much I have already forgotten. Therefore, chronicle the journey as it unfolds.
For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter 9631-643- 9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: Wonderful Walter #93861 is a “follicularly challenged” Belgian Sheepdog mix. This sweet gent is missing hair from his back end. Blood tests show he suffers from hypothyroidism which could be remedied with daily meds that are relatively inexpensive. “Zena” #20665 is the silly gatekeeper in the lobby. When running free, Zena decides which other cats are allowed through doorways.
New Cats: “Corran”- vocal, longhaired orange in C-2 “Puddles” in C-4-tabby -6 years old.
New Dogs: male Rottweiler #93994; Siberian Husky #94016- he looks like Alec Baldwin. Go see for yourself.