2008-04-23 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets . . .

Search for Sensation: The Westminster Shooting House, Up Close and Personal
by Joanne Anderson

Members of the Westminster Kennel Club spent 24 years in Babylon. They didn't hold their famous dog shows here. Instead, these moneyed men bred and ran their prized pups, and also hosted pigeon shoots for members, clubhouse. Sensation, the Pointer immortalized in the Westminster logo, and his kennel mates played no part in the bloody festivities.

I must say the legacy of cruelty upsets me. Live bird shoots remain the least pleasant pieces of the jumbo jigsaw puzzle trying to locate the Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) and possibly Sensation's grave. From 1880 to 1904 on numerous occasions the NY Times, Brooklyn Eagle, and local papers reported the exact number of pigeons blown to smithereens but never once pinpointed the shooting spot near Southards Pond.

Because of a revival of interest at the turn of the 20th century, pigeon shooting was added (and contested) as an event for one time only during the 1900 Olympics in Paris. Babylon Westminster's bird matches were so popular with wealthy sportsmen that the LIRR had a special train that would assure participants a 10 am departure and a 5:30 pm return to the city.

The sport, essentially a canned hunt, was as controversial then as it is now. Critics debated whether this practice where live birds were released from underground traps about 20-30 yards away from the shooter was blatantly inhumane or essential to hone marksmen's skills for national security. (Nowadays the infamous, annual Hegins, PA pigeon shoot inspired the children's Newbery Honor Book Wringer by Jerry Spinelli an excellent lesson in coming of age compassion.)

Newspaper microfilm has turned up peripheral human causalities: South Side Signal 2/15/1881, a young man living near the WKC grounds was trying to bring down some of the stray birds died when he stepped in his shed and accidentally triggered his gun; Brooklyn Eagle 4/15/1900 a Lindenhurst woman was struck and killed, her 6 yr.-oldson badly injured by the west bound train returning WKC members to the city.

The SPCA kept trying in Albany. By 1904 pigeon shoots became illegal in NYS. Soon after Westminster sold the clubhouse to James L. Ewell and moved to Tenafly, NJ. Several months later NJ followed NY's lead, also outlawing pigeon shooting.

So what was the shooting house? Spectators viewed the Baby- lon shoots from the clubhouse veranda and the shooting house which stored equipment. "A neat building, long but low, is at the rear of the contestants for their convenience and that of on-looking friends in cold and stormy weather" said Pentz in American Field 3/13/1886." Westminster owns just a few old pictures with a glimpse of the shooting house. Recently I've been fortunate to come across 3 additional images.

Top photo: Last week Bill Frohlich former Babylon Town historian sent this amazing, panorama photo of the WKC grounds found in a LIRR guide book circa 1895. It shows the clubhouse from a new angle. The lower building to the left is the shooting house. The flagpole, Sensation's gravesite is between the 2 buildings. A small pulling-box and scoring booth stand side by side blocking the bottom of the flagpole. However, flat, expansive topography in the photo casts more doubts on the sandpit mound that Dr. Davis is examining with ground penetrating radar (see "Pets" online 4/10/08).

Middle photo: EBay is a great historical source. I bought the elusive Frank Leslie Weekly 2/20/1892 containing newly discovered drawings from a California collector selling other antique Westminster ephemera. Besides the sketch shown here, the article mentions "the shooting house is a spacious building…it has a large number of pictures on the walls and is cool and airy."

Bottom photo: Finally we zoom in. One of the photos borrowed from the Ewell family bothered Westminster historian Mr. Stifel because the architecture did not match the clubhouse completely. My trusty magnifying glass revealed the same "Christmas tree" design on the shooting house peak. Hence it seems Cousin Birchard dressed as an Indian brave sometime around 1910 when the term "Indian" was still PC is standing in front of the shooting house, not the clubhouse. He's aiming his bow at my target-the flagpole, Sensation's grave marker. Great news, but am I allowed to scream "GERONIMO" as his arrow hits the ground?

Correction from last week's column: A word was missing. Maddie's Fund estimates there are 30-60 million feral cats in the US.

For Adoption: "Bijou" is the newest arrival at the Last Hope Dog Center behind Basic Pet Care on Rt. 109 in Lindenhurst. She's a young, purebred Boston Terrier taken to a town shelter after she was abandoned in a carrier at a parking lot. Scared for a moment; she then bonds quickly with "her people". Last Hope is looking for a breed experienced home for Bijou. Call 631-661-6164.

•Reminder: The LI Pit Bull Predicament Conference Sat. May 3 hosted by Last Hope will be held at Suffolk Community Brentwood. More Info at www.lasthopeanimalrescue. org or "Pets" online 4/3. All are welcome.

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