2011-06-22 / Columnists
Pets, Pets, Pets
People aren’t born with pedigree papers. Perhaps they should be. Throughout my search for the roots of Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) in Babylon, we’ve seen that the family trees of the show dogs that resided here a century ago are easier to trace than those of the people.
Purebred dogs, especially famous ones, have well-documented lines. Tracing the ancestry of people can be more convoluted because of multiple married names. Dogs never change their registered names.
Westminster Kennel Club had a sportsmen’s club in the woods west of Southards Pond from 1880 to 1904. Sensation, the emblem of Westminster, was buried under a flagpole on the clubhouse front lawn in 1887. Sensation’s ancestors and progeny are traceable, even online, via a site called English River Pointers.
While trying to “dig up” Sensation’s final resting place, we stumbled on several local residents descended from principal players during Westminster’s stay. Their family photo albums provide golden glimpses.
Gwynn Leitch of Babylon, the great granddaughter of J. L. Ewell, the businessman who purchased the property from WKC in 1904, had precious shots of both the new clubhouse and old clubhouse, close-ups that no one, including Westminster officials, had ever seen. Her relatives knew about their forbearers’ “country homes” but were unaware of their connection to Westminster until I started sniffing around five years ago.
Last year (“Pets” Beacon Mar. 3, 2010) I wrote a Sensation saga installment about an 1895 Brooklyn Eagle article which mentioned that after the dog show at Madison Square Garden, a pair of champion Pointers rode home to Babylon on the LIRR. I could only laugh, picturing their victory commute. The reporter called the dogs “the most attractive passengers on this special train.” These Pointers were King of Kent, a Sensation successor at the show for exhibition only and Sir Walter who won top honors in several Pointer classes. Sir Walter belonged to George S. Mott, the last superintendent of the kennels at WKC in Babylon.
The name George S. Mott rang a bell with Stephanie and Kevin Conley. There was a silver dog trophy somewhere in their family with his name on it. And since the Conleys and I live a few blocks apart, and since I am easy to spot walking my Afghans, they tracked me down. It turns out that George S. Mott, superintendent of WKC kennels and pigeon shoots from 1892 until WKC left Babylon in 1904, was Stephanie’s great great grandfather on her late father’s side. The Conleys didn’t know he had worked for Westminster, so it was time to retrieve the trophy and bring it home for a closer look.
Besides caring for the WKC dogs, Mott also bred his own Pointers. With Thomas Wood, he leased 600 acres in N. Babylon where his Pointers could perfect their field trial skills. On April 19, 1902, the Brooklyn Eagle did a full page spread about Mott’s Pointers. The photos are fabulous and each Pointer has an intricately drawn frame. The pictures can be found online. The piece says that Mott bred dogs for August Belmont and Austin Corbin.
It turns out the beautiful Mott trophy in Gorham silver has great provenance. The inscription reads: “Pointer Club of America, Field Trials, 1900, Member Stake won by Mott’s Fred, George S. Mott, presented by Walton Ferguson Jr.” (In the 1930s Ferguson was president of Westminster.) There happens to be a Nov. 18, 1900 New York Times article detailing this field trial held on Sound Avenue in Jamesport. It even says that Fred was a black and white Pointer.
Stephanie Conley’s mother in Florida has gone through old family albums. There are quite a few photos of George S. Mott vacationing in Aikens, South Carolina where those WKC members interested in gun clubs went after pigeon shooting became illegal in NY and NJ. Mott is pictured hanging out with a few friends named Vanderbilt, Whitney and “Andy” Mellon.
Her mother found one Pointer photo of “Westerlake Coronet.” Underneath the photo, it says his parents are Ch. Marks Rush and Princess Alice. The dog’s parents are easy to trace. Princess Alice is shown in the full-page spread in the Brooklyn Eagle, while Marks Rush appears in old photos plus an oil owned by the American Kennel Club painted by Muss-Arnolt, the same artist who sketched the WKC clubhouse right next to Southards Pond. Is there a portrait of your parent hanging in a gallery?
One Mott mystery remains. Stephanie’s great grandmother was Carolyn Downs Mott. She has photos of Grandmother and Grandpa Downs. The couple who leased, then sold the property to Westminster in 1880 were Daniel H. and Sarah Downs. They, along with George S. Mott and his wife, are buried in Babylon Rural Cemetery. Perhaps Ancestry.com will tell us if Stephanie is connected to Westminster Babylon two different ways- by being a descendant of both the kennel superintendent and the original landowners. If this is true, we now have photos of the Downs family who lived in the first clubhouse before Westminster arrived. Thank you, Sir Walter! None of this would have happened if you hadn’t ridden the LIRR.
For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631- 643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: This sweet female Chow/Shepherd #94138 was found at Belmont Lake. It is taking far too long for “Honey” the honey of a Husky to find a loving home. See this pretty gal in Cage 34. There are many affectionate cats and kittens too.
Males: Maverick the yellow Lab; a Pug.
Female: a thin Boxer; Mona Lisa, Lydia, Trixie- all variations on the Pit mix theme.