2012-06-20 / Columnists

Pets Pets Pets

Just when we think we’ve seen all existing memorabilia about Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) in Babylon, something new surfaces. However, a rare editorial titled “Manly Sport of Pigeon Shooting” with a clubhouse closeup photo from The Illustrated American March 24, 1894 isn’t really new.

The 108-year-old article is a commentary reflecting the attitude of wealthy shooters during that era. The accompanying photo of well-dressed men standing outside the clubhouse is the only picture known to exist of a pigeon shoot at WKC Babylon.

The source of such a precious artifact? Well, eBay, of course. On May 5, I received simultaneous emails from Mary Cascone, Babylon Town historical archivist and Bill Frohlich, former Town historian saying that something that matched “WKC in Babylon, NY” had just gone up for auction. I was at the Babylon Shelter and could only make out the year 1894 on my tiny smartphone, designed for the notso smart owner. I had no articles from 1894 so I rushed home to see the listing on a bigger computer screen. Click: “Buy It Now.” Sold!

1894 photo of pigeon shoot at the Westminster Kennel Club in Babylon 1894 photo of pigeon shoot at the Westminster Kennel Club in Babylon For those readers unaware of the search for Sensation, Westminster had a clubhouse and kennels on 64 acres in Babylon, just west of Southards Pond. Sensation the WKC emblematic Pointer was buried under a flagpole on the clubhouse front lawn in 1887. With the help of WKC, historians and other incredible people within and outside the dog world, I have been hunting for that precise spot over five years now, while chronicling discoveries in “Pets.” More than 40 WKC columns are archived at www.babylonbeacon.com. Much of the evidence points to one spot as the Pointer’s final resting place but definitive confirmation still eludes us. That’s why additional information is so useful.

Let’s look at new WKC clues within a historical context. The Illustrated American was a weekly news magazine published in NYC, London and Paris at the turn of the last century. The Civil War had been over almost 30 years. Among the material in this 1894 issue is a picture of a Mr. Maurice Barrymore (ancestor of Lionel and Drew) in a play on Fifth Avenue, plus a lament about the delay in the completion of Grant’s Tomb- “If the gentlemen having in charge the construction of Grant’s tomb had been intrusted [sic] to them the conduct of the war, it is safe to say the distressing event would have been continued to our own times.”

Westminster kept a sportsman’s club in Babylon from 1880 to 1904 to house up to 200 dogs and to host pigeon shoots. Because of a revival of interest among moneyed men, pigeon shooting was added (and contested) as an event for one time only during the 1900 Olympics in Paris. Detailed scores of each Babylon shoot appeared in local papers as well as the NY Times and Brooklyn Eagle, and a photo of a Babylon match was chosen for The Illustrated American testimonial defending the inhumane sport where birds were released from underground traps and blown to smithereens.

Take a look at the article’s rationalization: “There are persons who look upon this as a cruel pastime. But when one considers that the ultimate end of a pigeon is to have his neck wrung and to be sold in the market, it would appear far less cruel that he should end his days like a flash of lightning, and dying, enjoy the reputation of having done good service for the manly sport. Before it comes to their turn to take their places in the traps, these pigeons have a pleasant time of it. They are specially bred for the purpose and very well cared for in order that they may be strong on the wing.” Oh, really? The article goes on to say that the most stylish shoots are held in Monte Carlo.

All this brings us to the fabulous new photo. Does it provide location clues? Mr. Stifel, WKC historian, had never seen it. The only close-ups we have belonged to the Ewell family that purchased the clubhouse from WKC in 1904 after NYS outlawed pigeon shoots. Gathered are about 20 men in front of the shooting house waiting their turn. You can see part of the large clubhouse in the background, a good view of the pulling box and scoring booth, and under a magnifier, a wooden chair behind the shooter. The shooter but not the trap is visible, so it is impossible to tell if the WKC complex is as close to the pond as I think it is. Once again the area seems flatter and more spacious than the same property in the woods is now, even though old aerial photos show a peculiar clearing there. The clubhouse burned down in 1918.

Sensation had died seven years before 1894. Our eyes focused in this new photo on what appears to be part of a flag flying over the shooting house. Why don’t we see the pole? Is this flag on the Sensation flagpole or is it a second flag attached to the gable of the shooting house?

Mr. Stifel gathered other WKC Babylon flagpole photos on one document to examine its position and compared it to the newly discovered photo. The pictures went out to the canine contingents- Mary Bloom, WKC photographer, Barbara Kolk, former AKC librarian, Karen Blasche, historian for the American Pointer Club; and to local history buffs, Bill Frohlich and to Sensation search enthusiast Don Whalen in Maine who grew up on the east side of Southards Pond in the 1940s. The email debate continues because with each new clue, the sensational mystery is compounded rather than clarified. Oh, a time machine would be much easier!

For Adoption at Last Hope Animal Rescue (631-946- 9528), 3300 Beltagh Ave. Wantagh: During the Last Hope Wantagh first anniversary celebration, seven desperate dogs were airlifted from a packed Kentucky shelter by a team of three pilots via a Pilots N Paws transport. The happy dogs landed at Republic Saturday. Shown here are “Star” & “Sugar” part of the rural Beagle surplus, and “Spunky” a Shih Tzu/Brussels Griffon mix. Other new KY arrivals include “Mater,” a Jack Russell mix and “Fancy” a tiny Border Collie mix. Originally from Babylon Shelter are “Mattingly” the Cocker and “Trump” the German Shorthaired Pointer who was featured here last week.

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