2009-02-04 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

Editor's Note: On Feb.11, after the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show," Pets" columnist Joanne Anderson will be joining the nation's new top K-9 and dog dignitaries to celebrate when she also receives the Metropolitan Dog Club "President's Award" during the Best In Show Brunch in Grand Central. The following overview of her hunt for the site of Westminster's roots in Babylon will appear in the "MDC Blue Book magazine" to be distributed at Westminster this year.

Imagine finding out that Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) had property, a fancy 40 by 60 foot clubhouse and kennels in your hometown. Imagine also learning "Sensation" Westminster's iconic Pointer is practically buried in your Babylon back yard; then discovering that no one, including Westminster, knows precisely where. The news set me on a quest, equivalent to the Dog Vinci Code.

Sensation, Where Art Thou? The stately Pointer on Westminster's purple logo is symbolic of both the purebred dog and the world's most famous show. Whelped in England 1874, imported 2 years later to promote the newly formed club and exhibition, Pointer extraordinaire "Don", renamed "Sensation", did just that. His record and progeny lived up to his moniker.

"Sensation" has graced most every Westminster catalog and award. "Old Don" retired to LI and was laid to rest in 1887 beneath a flagpole with a Pointer-shaped weather vane atop, in front of the Babylon clubhouse. A century later, both the grave and clubhouse are gone.

How could the clubhouse-so prestigious, so huge, vanish without a trace to Westminster or a shred of memory to the old time locals? Though I've written this Babylon Beacon pet column almost 26 years, walked my Afghans in the same Westminster woods, only since 2006 while judging articles for Dog Writers did I stumble on news that the K-9 King Tut was interred nearby. Here are the findings so far:

Farmhouse Musical Chairs: In 1880 NYC Westminster leased 64 acres west of Babylon's Southards Pond for pigeon shooting grounds and space to breed Pointers. The sportsmen's paradise already had a rundown 1700s farmhouse, refurbished as a temporary clubhouse, its barns as the first kennels. After purchasing the land, the club moved the farmhouse in 1884 to make room for their elaborate $8,000 clubhouse built on the original spot.

The farmhouse became home to the kennel superintendent, James Mortimer, also in charge of the Madison Square Garden show. Westminster left Babylon in 1904 when the state banned pigeon shooting. The clubhouse burned down in 1918 while Ewell (the new owner) leased it to a Brooklyn muscle man as a health resort/pig farm. Later the original farmhouse was moved again to an empty foundation across the street at 358 Livingston, where it still stands.

Ewell descendants and the present farmhouse occupants were unaware of their connection to dogdom. An 1870 survey and deeds show exact boundaries, even a pear tree and stake in the pond, but no structures. The Kennel Club owned no other maps 'til I started digging around town.

MapQuest: With the help of Mr. Bill Stifel, Westminster's historian, author of- The Dog Show: 125 Years of Westminsterwe've scrutinized every lead. Was the clubhouse located in the woods where we might uncover proof or buried forever under the Chronicling new findings with 20 Beacon updates so far, I have access to local newspaper archives, town historians, and senior Babylonians. I can view village tax ledgers, censuses, surveys, county libers, and find the principal players, including WKC charter member C.D.Wagstaff's tomb in Babylon Cemetery. After I mailed a flyer to over 100 homes built on former WKC land, 2 people called about digging up strange cement. Hmm. The kennels housing up to 200 dogs had concrete floors.

Some residents described the area 50+years ago. An engineer super imposed maps focusing on a spot close to the farmhouse, whereas a mysterious sandpit at the SW corner by the pond remains my primary area of interest, supported by the recollections of a lady who played there in the 1940s, pre-WKC maps and early 20th C. aerial photography.

The first of about 20 maps to surface, a 1902 Hyde, is the only one that names the clubhouse, but its cartographer also neglected to paint and label Southards Pond. Likewise, microfilm and accounts in old journals contain gaps, contradictions and discrepancies, some that sent me chasing the wrong fire for months.

High Tech Hunting: Ewell's great granddaughter provided rare families photos, a few dated, that show the former clubhouse, a kennel-like fire and possibly the flagpole up close. We've analyzed them for shadow angles, vegetation, and architectural hints. I've consulted vintage auto and clothing experts to pinpoint years.

Unlike vertical archaeology, evidence appears in haphazard sequence. However, aerial shots of the sandpit have been uncovered in reverse order- 1938 from the Smithsonian, 1928 from the County, and now 1918 from a WWI squadron which seems to show the clubhouse complex shortly before the blaze.

The WKC clubhouse had a "wine cellar well-supplied"; part of the cellar may remain. Looking for a foundation Dr. Dan Davis, Stony Brook Univ. geophysicist took GPR (ground penetrating radar) readings around the target "sandpit" area. His students analyzed the data for human disturbance, but findings so far are inconclusive. Littering years later compounds a soil timeline.

X Marks the Spot: Meanwhile Babylon "Bloodhounds" continue the search, sniffing out more clues. My goal is canine closure; then the clubhouse site and "Sensation's" final flagpole enshrined with an historical marker, lettering in Westminster purple. Nothing else will do.

•Note- Westminster TV Special: CNBC's "Amer ican Or iginal s : Westminster Dog Show" premieres Thurs. Feb. 5 at 9 pm and 1 am, re-airs Sun. Feb. 8 at 10 pm. The program will explore the financial, cultural and historical impact of the world's most famous dog show. Meanwhile the 133rd WKC Dog Show will be on live Mon. Feb.9 & Tues. Feb.10 from 8-11pm. (USA network and CNBC share the show on Monday because of World Wrestling Entertainment.)

For Adoption: The dogs and cats at Oyster Bay Town Shelter (677-5784) Miller Pl. Syosset would love to be someone's #1 Pet. "Spoodle" #0023 is a happy, but older male Maltese mix while "Phoenix" # 0026 is a majestic, orange longhaired cat. "Phoenix" and his pretty muted calico sister "Phoebe"#0025 were abandoned by a tenant who moved.

More Dogs: "Rusty"- wonderful 11 yr. old Cocker; "Charley"- black Lab mix with a plastic allergy; "Bentley"- Shiba mix.

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