2011-08-03 / Columnists
Pets, Pets, Pets
While searching for the Westminster Kennel Club in Babylon, it took several years to find out what caused the demise of the elusive Westminster clubhouse. The majestic Victorian built on the west side of Southards Pond burned to the ground on October 14, 1918, but under a “new identity.” Westminster sold the property 14 years before the fire.
At the time of the blaze, Max MacLevy was leasing these grounds and buildings from the new owner as a health farm. To complicate the timeline, the sportsman clubhouse once used by Westminster members and their guests was not Professor Mac- Levy’s first health retreat in Babylon.
Previously, the pseudo-professor set up shop right at the corner of Main Street and Great Neck Road where Bulk’s Nursery and the now vanished windmill stood later. Exactly when MacLevy moved to the former Westminster complex remains ambiguous. It was probably in late 1914 or 1915. When MacLevy published his pioneering anti-smoking book in 1916, I believe the “Farm” he referred to was the former Westminster clubhouse.
The Professor’s venture was part of the physical culture movement, a fitness trend begun in the late 19th century designed to remedy “diseases of affluence” afflicting the sedentary middle and upper class with Greco-Roman style feats of athletics such as boxing, calisthenics and weight lifting. MacLevy’s retreat regimens in Babylon were a mixture of spa, rehab, and hard work. He would charge his wealthy patients money to chop wood or shovel snow for him. Some embraced the idea; others tried to sue him. Later he and his son invented exercise contraptions including stationary bikes, rowing machines and that strap Bugs Bunny always put around his waist in cartoons.
MacLevy also had a gymnasium at Madison Square Garden; quite a coincidence because since 1877 the Westminster Kennel Club has held their famous dog show in all four manifestations of Madison Square Garden. According to his 1934 New York Times death notice, MacLevy counted notables among his clients, including Teddy Roosevelt who both boxed and subscribed to the doctrine of a “strenuous life.” I haven’t verified a MacLevy/TR relationship yet and remain a bit skeptical because obituaries can be embellished by relatives. Both MacLevy’s son and widow were in the slenderizing business too, so listing a US President as a customer has its profit advantages.
MacLevy was a great self-promoter, at times a controversial character and once a missing witness in the Pultizer murder. I like to describe him as a cross between Jack La- Lanne and L. Ron Hubbard, best played by Robert Downey Jr. when I write my screenplay. If MacLevy were alive today, we’d see him pushing his health shtick on TV infomercials. He placed cleverly written health club advertisements in publications from the New York Times to medical reviews, journals of homeopathy and even fishing or baseball magazines. I recently purchased an original copy of a 1914 ad in the Hudson Theatre Program. The text is below, and the “salt air” would be Bergen Point prior to the sewer plant:
The average New York man, in his mode of living, exceeds the speed limit everyday of his life. He works hard in the office all day, spends half the night in a feverish search for amusement, drinks too much, eats more than he can digest, burns the candle on both ends, and carefully abstains from exercise, fresh air, rest, relaxation, and other essentials of a healthful and really happy existence. Then some days he “skids,” and there is another human wreck, and the doctors try in vain to put Humpty Dumpty together again. Does this shoe fit you? Then stop, and indulge in a few thinks. You don’t have to become a chronic “simple lifer” in order to avoid the ditch, but it is necessary that you slow up once in a while and give nature a chance to put you in tune. If your nerves are jangling, if your digestion is out of order, if you have to constantly increase your daily allowance of liquor or tobacco in order to keep going, consider it time to spend a few weeks at MacLevy HEALTH FARM, Babylon, L. I.
There you can have scientific individual exercise under expert direction, outdoor work and rest and recreation in right proportions, nutritious food and balmy ocean airand Mother Nature will do the rest. The MacLevy Gymnasium, 352 Fourth Avenue, New York, also affords the ideal facilities for open air and indoor exercise. It’s “on the roof.”
Telephone Madison Square 8686, or write for particulars.”
MacLevy may have relocated to the remote wooded Westminster acres from what is now the undeveloped land on the southwest corner of Montauk Highway. that leads to Bergen Point after one runaway patient terrorized folks in Babylon
Village. A “Pets” column in the near future will recount a strange 1914 ruckus which will include murder by U.S. mail and a Broadway play about the 20 years this client spent in Sing Sing. Stay tuned to this strange tangent in the Westminster Babylon saga.
Meanwhile, Bulk’s windmill on this land didn’t go up until about 1929. This property became the Underhill dahlia farm sometime after MacLevy left for the Westminster complex. Much of Underhill’s cottage was destroyed in a 1923 blaze, but the dahlia bulbs were spared.
In contrast the following is a 1917
New York Times ad by MacLevy once he had moved to the Westminster clubhouse. Take a look at all he offered there: MacLevy HEALTH FARM Babylon, L.I. Physical training, gymnasium, masseur, handball, tennis court, saddle horses, showers, bathing, fishing, sailing, billiards, wholesome food, excellent grounds; 63 acres (Same NYC contact phone and address. Yes, the Westminster clubhouse did have a billiard room).
For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: Many deserving pets need a loving home. This Kit N’ Kaboodle in the lobby represents the variety of available cats and kittens, especially since mid summer is when kitten season peeks. “Sarah” #94278 is a young Husky mix with eyes the color of the sky. She is so loving but would do better in a home without cats.
Male: “Chestnut” senior Shepherd mix in Cage 4; “Seabo” tuxedo; “Puddles”- tabby.
Female: Mona Lisa- #93957 with her enigmatic half smile; Husky mix #94256; black Lab mix #94250; Maltese; and many Pit mixes.
*Speaking of Bergen Point: Last Hope’s 4th annual Golf Outing will take place there on Oct. 3. See www.lasthopeanimalrescue.org for details.