2008-06-25 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Part 18- "Search for Sensation": Time to fit the mysterious MacLevy into our local Westminster equation.
by Joanne Anderson

I'll skip writing the book, and go straight to the movie. I want Robert Downey Jr. cast as Pro­fessor MacLevy. Here's why: Picking up where we left off last week in the Babylon Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) quest, we learned that the former clubhouse burned down on Oct. 14, 1918, while Max MacLevy was leasing it as a faddish health retreat and pig farm.

Hmmm, among other controversial antics, flam­boyant body builder "Professor MacLevy" was a health mentor to Teddy Roosevelt, also the vanish­ing witness in the 1902 Pulitzer murder case and con­sultant to Delmonico, famous restaurateur who died suddenly in 1901 of TB although the prof "cured" him. MacLevy met and married his bride right after saving her from drowning in Bensonhurst. Details of his Enquirer-style past are chronicled online in Laura Crawley's vivid Brooklyn blog "Virtual Dime Museum", which is also the source of this vintage MacLevy poster promoting his "quick trolley" swimming sys­tem. Starting to get the shady picture? Read on: When MacLevy rented from James L. Ewell and moved to the old Babylon WKC estate around 1915, he was al­ready well-known for his vaudeville boxing exhi­bitions and gymnasium in Brooklyn. As a "physical culturist", a bygone New Age health trend made pop­ular by Seventh-day Adventists and quirky Dr. John H. Kellogg of Battle Creek (yes, Dr. Cornflakes), MacLevy turned Westminster's once-glorious club­house into a "physical cultural sanitarium". An ad in the Aug. 19, 1917 New York Times says: MacLevy Health Farm Babylon, LI Physical training, gymna­sium,

masseur, handball, tennis court, saddle horses, showers, bathing, fishing, sailing, billiards, whole­some foods, excellent grounds, 65 acres…. Interesting- he put pigs in our hallowed kennels, then commandeered Westminster's fancy billiard room. At the time MacLevy's city gym had moved to the old Madison Square Garden. Strange coincidence- Westminster has held dog shows in all 4 Gardens.

It seems MacLevy (1873-1934) had at least 3 sani­tariums in Babylon, all left in ashes, not necessarily when he was in them. At the turn of the century, he used Havemeyer Pt. on Oak Island which burned down around 1920. He put an ad in the 1/25/1901 Brooklyn Eagle to hire a handyman at $12 a month and ocean side free rent. From 1915-18 he set up shop at the WKC clubhouse near Southards Pond. Max and the Mrs. were living in the WKC shooting house when the buildings were destroyed in that 1918 blaze, sup­posedly due to a defective flue. MacLevy's name in connection to my coveted WKC Babylon clubhouse first popped up in the elu­sive

Niko, left and Boogie, right. Niko, left and Boogie, right. scrapbook photo that took me a year to identify from the 1935 Babylon Leader. One 1920s Babylon fire from the Brooklyn Eagle baffled me until now. On 8/30/1923 the Underhill Nursery Farm, on Great East Neck and Montauk Hwy., later Bulks Nursery and the windmill, mysteriously perished in flames. Last sentence is the clincher: farm was "formerly the MacLevy Physical Cultural Sanitarium"... yet another one bites the dust. His health and diet beliefs did have some merit. MacLevy wrote an anti-tobacco booklet cited in 1916 "American Journal of Public Health", plus a April 23, 1933 beer and exercise letter excerpted in the New York Times that warns: "flabby, unproportioned bod­ies are not conducive to healthy minds". However, the Professor also had some disgruntled clients at his Babylon Health Farm. On Aug. 5, 1915 the Times reported Henry Wood the 20 yr. old son of a late wealthy brewery owner, sent to MacLevy to re­coup from a nervous breakdown, wandered away lost in the Westminster woods. For all we know, Wood might still be in there. Meanwhile, on Nov. 24, 1918, the Brooklyn Eagle says the father of 1st Lieut. Edward D. Fraser Jr. sued Mac-Levy to recover $500 he paid in 1917 to furnish his ill son an attendant, outdoor sports and games and rub downs. Fraser Sr. accused the Prof of providing none, but instead, treating his son like a farmhand, making him work in the fields and eat at the same table with the help. Heavens, no! For this breach of contract, Papa Fraser got his $500 back. MacLevy had a peculiar side business. The Oct. 18,1918 South Side Signal said that at the time of the clubhouse fire, he was also raising pigs here, but about to move them to Hempstead. (Please don't tell me that poor Fraser Jr. was forced to slop hogs in the once state of the art WKC kennels.) Pork belly futures don't seem kosher. MacLevy's real name was Levy. At the time of his death in 1934, he was president of the Lynbrook temple.

Bacon was verboten on the physical cultural menu too. Don Whalen, my mentor in Maryland, has an interesting theory. On his WWI draft card MacLevy lists his occupation as "farmer," a notation that would have earned him a military deferment; so by going hog wild, Max would be free to profit on his sani­tarium.

Location, location, location. Meandering the Ma­cLevy maze, I'm hunting for site clues. Where, oh, where were the Westminster clubhouse and Sensation the renowned Pointer's grave during this health ma­nia?

The Professor's 1918 draft card says "Babylon" - no street clue; a 1917 NYC directory lists MacLevy's farm phone as "Babylon 185". "Max, can you hear me now?" Darn. No one answers when I call. Foot Note: Might there be a physical cultural gene? MacLevy's son Monty followed in his Dad's foot­steps. He saved gals from drowning at the Lynbrook pool, opened a Milk Farm for women in Huntington, patented many pieces of fitness equipment such as treadmills, exercise bikes, and even that belt contrap­tion that shakes off your fat.

Feel like you walked into the middle of a mov­ie? To catch up on the WKC Sensational soap opera search in Babylon, go to www.babylonbeacon.com, type "Westminster Kennel Club" in Search and my 17 previous "Pets" starting at Feb. 8, 2007, should pop up. For Adoption: "Niko" #468 is a handsome young Rottweiler, victim of a divorce, at Oyster Bay Town Shelter (677-5784) Miller Pl. Syosset. He needs a breed experienced home. "Boogie" #398 the gray longhaired beauty cat sporting a boa came in with her pretty sister "Priscilla" #399 now in the lobby. More hopefuls: : "Sammy" #425-black Shepherd mix- wrong poster pet picture last week; "Don" #343- the handsome Pointer; "Tyson" #475-gray tabby; lots of tiny kittens.

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