March 18, 2011 No Ordinary Donkey

For the family who now owned him, the  neglected, half-starved pack animal out back suddenly became a “beloved pet”.  They couldn’t possible let him go for anything less than $30,000.  (But, of course).

Al Taqaddum Airbase, “TQ” in military parlance, is a military airbase, 45 miles west of Baghdad, on the Habbaniyah Plateau of Iraq. In 2008, Al Taqaddum was home to the 1st Marine Logistics Group, under the command of Colonel John D. Folsom.

wwfs-colonel-folsom-smallEarly one August morning, Colonel Folsom awoke to a new sound. The thwap-thwap-thwap of the helicopters, the endless hum of the generators, those were the sounds of everyday life. This sound was different – the sound of braying donkey.

Folsom emerged from his quarters to find the small, emaciated animal, tied to a eucalyptus tree.  Standing all of 3′ tall, a sergeant had spotted the donkey roaming outside Camp Taqaddum, and thought it would be amusing to catch him.  Folsom thought it might be fun to have one around. Time would tell they were both right.

Smoke visits Sgt Lonnie Forrest
Smoke visits Sgt Lonnie Forrest

The website for a UK donkey sanctuary recommends a diet of highly fibrous plant material, eaten in small quantities throughout the day. I read the list twice and nowhere will you find bagels yet, for this little Iraqi donkey, there was nothing better.  Preferably frozen.  He’d hold them in his mouth and walk along, scraping the bagel in the dirt before eating it.  He liked to play the same game, with a deflated rubber ball.

You won’t find cigarettes on the list either, but he stole one once, and gobbled it down.  It didn’t seem to matter that the thing was lit.  For that reason and because of the color of his coat, the Marines called him “Smoke”.

Smoke-the-donkey-MattShelatoBefore long,  Smoke was a familiar sight around Camp Taqaddum.  After long walks around the wire, Smoke learned to open doors and wander around.  If you ever left that candy dish out on your desk, you were on your own.

SmokeRegulations prohibit the keeping of pets in a war zone.  A Navy Captain helped get Smoke designated as a therapy animal, and he was home to stay.  As it turned out, there was more than a little truth to the label.  For young women and men thousands of miles from home in a war zone, the little animal was a welcome reminder of home.

The humor of the situation was hard to resist, and the “ass jokes” all but told themselves.  (Sorry, but we’re talking about Marines, here).  Dozens of Marines laughed uproariously in that mess hall in 2009, belting out a mangled version of an old Kenny Rogers song: “Yes, he’s once, twice, three times a donkey…. I loooooovvvvvveeeeee youuuuuuuuu.”

That was the year when Folsom’s unit cycled out of Camp Taqaddum, to be replaced by another contingent of Marines.  These promised to look after the 1st MLG’s mascot, but things didn’t work out that way.  A Major gave the donkey away to a Sheikh who in turn dumped him off on an Iraqi family, and that was the end.  Except, it wasn’t.

Smoke-Home-LowerColonel Folsom couldn’t get the little animal out of his head and, learning of his plight in 2010, determined to get him back.  There were plenty of kids who had survived trauma of all kinds in his home state of Nebraska.  Folsom believed that the animal could do them some good, as well.

There ensued a months-long wrangle with American and Iraqi authorities, who couldn’t understand why all the fuss over a donkey.  For the family who now owned him, the  neglected, half-starved pack animal out back suddenly became a “beloved pet”.  They couldn’t possible let him go for anything less than $30,000.  (But, of course).

900 donors pitched in and, despite seemingly endless obstacles and miles of red tape, Smoke the Donkey slowly made his way from al-Anbar to Kuwait and on to Turkey and finally, to his new home in Nebraska.

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Smoke the Marine Corps Donkey, at his new home in Omaha

ABCNews.com broadcast this announcement on May 18, 2011. Smoke the Marine Corps Donkey, “mascot, ambassador, and battle buddy”, was now, an American.  Semper Fi.

May 16, 1938 Buddy’s Eyes

Dorothy Eustis called Frank in February 1928 and asked if he was willing to come to Switzerland. “Mrs. Eustis, to get my independence back, I’d go to hell”.

Written references to seeing eye dogs date back to the Tudor era, when a bit of children’s doggerel began “A is for Archer…B is a Blind-man/Led by a dog.”

German researchers began working with Alsatians (German Shepherd Dogs) in the 1920s, to serve as guides for WWI veterans blinded by gas.  An American breeder living in Switzerland, Dorothy Harrison Eustis, wrote an article about the work in a 1927 issue of the Saturday Evening Post.  US Senator Thomas Schall from Minnesota, who was legally blind, was paired with a German service dog that same year.

Morris Frank of Nashville lost the use of an eye in childhood.  His vision was destroyed altogether in a boxing accident, at the age of 16.  Frank hired a boy to guide him around, but the young man was easily bored and sometimes wandered off, leaving Frank to fend for himself.

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Frank’s father saw Eustis’ article in 1927, and read it to him.  The twenty-year old was electrified.  Morris wrote to Eustis pleading with her to train a dog for himself. “Is what you say really true? If so, I want one of those dogs! And I am not alone. Thousands of blind like me abhor being dependent on others. Help me and I will help them. Train me and I will bring back my dog and show people here how a blind man can be absolutely on his own. We can then set up an instruction center in this country to give all those here who want it a chance at a new life.

Dorothy Eustis called Frank in February 1928 and asked if he was willing to come to Switzerland. “Mrs. Eustis, to get my independence back, I’d go to hell”. She accepted the challenge and trained two dogs, leaving it to Frank himself to decide which was more suitable. Morris came to Switzerland to work with the dogs, both female German Shepherds. He chose a dog named “Kiss” but, feeling that no 20-year-old man should have a dog named Kiss, he called her “Buddy”.

Seeing Eye Dog Statue
Morris Frank was a founder of the first guide-dog school in the United States. He was the first person to be partnered with a seeing eye dog and the co-founder of The Seeing Eye, a guide-dog school.

Man and dog stepped off the ship in 1928 to a throng of reporters. There were flash bulbs, shouted questions and the din of traffic and honking horns that can only be New York City, but Buddy never wavered. At the end of the day Eustis received a single word telegram: “Success”. Morris Frank was set on the path that became his life’s mission: to get Seeing Eye Dogs accepted all over the country.

On January 29, 1929, Frank and Eustis established the first American guide dog training school in Frank’s home town of Nashville:  “The Seeing Eye“.  Frank was true to his word, becoming a tireless advocate of public accessibility for the blind and their guide dogs. In 1928, Morris was routinely told that Buddy couldn’t ride with him in the passenger compartment. Seven years later, all railroads in the United States had adopted policies allowing guide dogs to remain with their owners while on board.

By 1956, every state in the Union had passed laws guaranteeing access to public spaces for blind people and their dogs.

Frank told a New York Times interviewer in 1936 that he had logged 50,000 miles with Buddy, by foot, train, subway, bus, and boat. He was constantly meeting with people, including two Presidents and over 300 ophthalmologists, demonstrating the life-changing qualities of a guide dog.

Buddy’s health was failing toward the end of her life, but the team had one more hurdle to cross. One more barrier to break. Frank wanted to fly in a commercial aircraft with his guide dog, and did so on this day in 1938, flying from Chicago to Newark. United Airlines was the first to adopt the policy, granting “all Seeing Eye dogs the privilege of riding with their masters in the cabins of any of our regularly scheduled planes.”

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Morris Frank’s seeing eye dog was all business during the day but, to the end of her life, she loved to end her work day with a roll on the floor with her “Dad”.  Buddy died a week after that plane ride, but she had made her mark. There were 250 seeing eye dogs working across the country by this time, and their number was growing fast. Buddy’s replacement was also called Buddy, as was every seeing eye dog Frank ever owned, until he passed away in 1980.

SeeingeyeToday, The Seeing Eye operates a 330-acre complex in Morris Township, New Jersey, the oldest guide dog school still in operation, in the world.  The primary breeds used for such training are German Shepherds, Labs, Golden Retrievers, and Lab/Golden mixed breeds. Boxers are occasionally used, for individuals with allergies.

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Since 1929, Seeing Eye, Inc. has trained some 16,000 guide dogs, pairing them with blind and vision-impaired across the United States and Canada.  There are currently 1,720 such human/canine partnerships. The organization places an average of 260 guide dogs every year.    The non-profit is primarily funded through private donations, as new students pay only $150, and returning students pay $50.  Military veterans are charged a single dollar.

 

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

May 14, 1856 Red Ghost

The stories became more fantastic and more terrifying with each telling.  One man claimed that he personally saw the beast kill and eat a grizzly. Another claimed that he had chased the “Red Ghost”, only to have it vanish before his eyes.

Long before he became President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis was a young Army Officer.  At one time, Davis was approached with the idea of using camels as pack animals. To Davis, the idea made sense.  The beast’s ability to survive in the desert, its massive strength and great stamina, made him wonder if this wasn’t the weapon of the future.

Twenty years later, then-US Secretary of War Jefferson Davis ordered the creation of the 1st United States Camel Corps. Major Henry Wayne was sent to Turkey to acquire 62 of the animals, along with trainers who could teach American soldiers how to properly handle and care for them.

Camel_from_Harpers_WeeklyThe camels arrived on May 14, 1856, and set out for the newly established Camp Verde in West Texas, with elements of the US Cavalry and seven handlers.

Major Wayne became an enthusiastic salesman for the camel program, putting on demonstrations for cavalry groups. He would order what seemed an impossible load to be placed on a kneeling camel, and then step back and frown, “concerned” that he might have overdone it. Mule drivers would smile and jab each other with their elbows – now he’s done it – then he would step forward and pile on more weight. On command, the camel would stand up and stroll away, completely unconcerned.

One of the handlers, a Syrian named Hadji Ali, (“Hi Jolly” to the soldiers), established a successful breeding program while stationed at Camp Verde.  The program was not without problems. Camels don’t play well with other pack animals, and they don’t accept the whips and prods used to handle horses and mules. They tend to retaliate. A camel will spit or rake your face with its teeth if given the chance, and they can turn and charge in a manner that’s terrifying.

Camp Verde had about 60 camels when Civil War broke out in 1861. The King of Siam seems to have been the only one who grasped the military advantage to the Confederacy.  Seeing a business opportunity, the King wrote to President Abraham Lincoln, saying “here, we use elephants”. It seems that Lincoln never responded to the King’s overture, and the animal arms race got no further than this single letter. It makes the imagination run wild, though, at the idea of War Elephants at Gettysburg.

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The only known surviving photo of the U.S. Camel Corps shows a camel at Drum Barracks, San Pedro, CA. Library of Congress photo

Some of Camp Verde’s camels were sold off.  One poor brute was pushed over a cliff by frustrated cavalrymen. Most were simply turned loose to fend for themselves. The fates of these animals are mostly unknown, except for one who made his way to Mississippi in 1863, where he was taken into service with the 43rd Infantry Regiment. “Douglas the Confederate Camel” was a common sight throughout the siege of Vicksburg, until being shot and killed by a Union sharpshooter. Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bevier of the 5th Regiment, Missouri Confederate Infantry was furious, enlisting six of his best snipers to rain down hell on Douglas’ killer. Bevier later said of the Federal soldier “I refused to hear his name, and was rejoiced to learn that he had been severely wounded.”

Douglas, the Confederate Camel
Marker for “Douglas The Confederate Camel”. Cedar Hill Cemetery, Vicksburg, Mississippi

The Apache wars were drawing to a close in 1883, but southeastern Arizona could still be a dangerous place. Renegade bands of Apache were on the move, and isolated ranches were in a constant state of siege.

Two men rode out to check on their livestock one day, leaving their wives at the ranch with the kids. One of the women went down to the spring for a bucket of water while the other remained in the house with the children. Suddenly there was a terrifying scream, and the dogs began to bark. The woman inside saw what she described as a huge, reddish beast, being ridden by a devil.

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She barricaded herself inside the house and hysterically prayed while she waited for the men to return. They returned that night and found the body of the other woman by the stream. She’d been trampled almost flat, with huge, cloven hoof prints in the mud around her body and a few red hairs in the brush.

Gold prospectors awakened in the night a few days later, as their tent crashed down around them to the sound of thundering hoofs. They clawed their way out of the mess and saw a huge beast, much larger than a horse, run off into the moonlight. The next day, they too found red hairs in the brush.

The stories became more fantastic and more terrifying with each telling.  One man claimed that he personally saw the beast kill and eat a grizzly. Another claimed that he had chased the “Red Ghost”, only to have it vanish before his eyes.

camelmulesA few months later, a Salt River rancher named Cyrus Hamblin spotted the animal while rounding up cows. It was a camel, and Hamblin saw that it had something that looked like the skeleton of a man tied to its back. Nobody believed his story, but a group of prospectors fired on the animal several weeks later. Though their shots missed, they saw the animal bolt and run, and a human skull with some parts of flesh and hair still attached fell to the ground.

There were further incidents over the next year, mostly at prospector camps. A cowboy near Phoenix came upon the Red Ghost while eating grass in a corral. Cowboys seem to think they can rope anything with hair on it, and this guy was no exception. He lashed the rope onto the pommel of his saddle, and tossed it over the camel’s head. The angry beast turned and charged, knocking horse and rider to the ground. As the camel galloped off, the astonished cowboy could clearly see the skeletal remains of a man lashed to its back.

The beast last appeared nine years later in the garden of a rancher. He aimed his Winchester and fired, dropping the animal with one shot. On the back of the poor, tormented beast was the body of a man, tied down with heavy rawhide straps that cruelly scarred the animal’s flesh. The story of the Red Ghost ends here. How the body of a man came to be tied to its back remains a cruel mystery.

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The tomb of Hadji Ali in Quartzite, Arizona. The inscription reads: THE LAST CAMP OF HI JOLLY BORN SOMEWHERE IN SYRIA ABOUT 1828 DIED AT QUARTZITE DECEMBER 16, 1902 CAME TO THIS COUNTRY FEBRUARY 10, 1856 CAMELDRIVER – PACKER SCOUT – OVER THIRTY YEARS A FAITHFUL AID TO THE U.S. GOVERNMENT ARIZONA HIGHWAY DEPARTMENT 1935
If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

 

May 8, 1877 Westminster

“Westminster pre-dates the invention of the light bulb, the automobile, and the zipper; the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Washington Monument; and manned air flight and the establishment of the World Series. Since Westminster held its first show 127 years ago, there have been 26 men elected president and 12 states have joined the union”.

The most famous dog show in the world was first held on May 8, 1877, called the “First Annual NY Bench Show of Dogs.”  The event began as a show for hunting dogs, mostly Setters and Pointers with a few Terriers.

That first show featured two Staghounds belonging to the late General George Armstrong Custer. Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, entered two Deerhounds.  Two years later, Russian Czar Alexander III entered a Siberian Wolfhound. German Emperor Wilhelm II entered his own Wolfhound, a year later.

The event was held at Gilmore’s Garden at the corner of Madison Avenue and 26th Street, a location which would one day be known as Madison Square Garden.  In those days, another popular Gilmore Garden event was competitive boxing, a sport which was illegal in New York at that time.  Events were billed as “exhibitions” or, better yet, “Illustrated Lectures.”  (I love that one).

westmisterhotelA group of hunters used to meet at the Westminster Hotel at Irving Place & 16th Street, “to drink and lie about their shooting accomplishments”. The Westminster Kennel Club was formed when the group first decided to hold a dog show.

According to Westminsterkennelclub.org, “Westminster pre-dates the invention of the light bulb, the automobile, and the zipper; the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Washington Monument; and manned air flight and the establishment of the World Series. Since Westminster held its first show 127 years ago, there have been 26 men elected president and 12 states have joined the union…The dog show has outlasted three previous versions of Madison Square Garden, and is currently being staged in MSG IV. It is one of only four events to be held in all four “Gardens.”. 

Prizes for that original show included pearl handled revolvers.  Amusing when you think of the 2nd amendment purgatory that is Warren Wilhelm’s (Bill DiBlasio’s) New York.

51bMmhjei7L1,201 dogs arrived for that first show, in an event so popular that the originally planned three days morphed into four. The Westminster Kennel Club donated all proceeds from the fourth day to the ASPCA, for the creation of a home for stray and disabled dogs. The organization remains supportive of animal charities, to this day.

The Westminster dog show is the longest continuously held sporting event in the United States, with the sole exception of the Kentucky Derby, which began only a year earlier.

Not even two World Wars would stop the Westminster Dog Show, though a tugboat strike cut two days down to one in 1946. Even so, “Best in Show” was awarded fifteen minutes earlier than the year before.  I wonder how many puppies were named “Tug” that year.

The Westminster dog show was first televised in 1948, three years before college football was first broadcast on national television.

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When the American Kennel Club (AKC) was founded in 1884, Westminster was the first club to be admitted. Breed parent clubs such as the German Shepherd Dog Club of America developed breed standards, extensive written descriptions of what the perfect specimen looks like for any given breed. Some of the traits which distinguished the original working dogs of 1877 are still apparent, while other elements are seemingly arbitrary, such as tail carriage, eye shape and color.

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Breed standard for the American Staffordshire Bull Terrier

Dogs are judged first against others of their own breed.  The best of each goes forward into one of seven groups: Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting, and Herding. In the final round, the winners from each group competes for “Best in Show”.  In the end, there can be only one.

Mixed breeds have been permitted since 2014, to compete in an agility event.

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Warren Remedy

A Smooth Fox Terrier named Ch.(Championship) Warren Remedy won the top award in 1907, 1908 and 1909, the only dog to ever win three Best in Shows at Westminster. Seven dogs have twice taken the top award.  Five owners have won Best in Show with more than one dog. A Sussex Spaniel named Stump became the oldest winner in dog show history in 2009, at the age of 10. Judge Sari Tietjen said she had no idea the winning dog was a senior citizen. “He showed his heart out,” she said. “I didn’t know who he was or how old … I just couldn’t say no to him”.

Today, the Westminster dog show runs two days and nights in February. Entry is limited to 2,800 dogs and fills up on the first day of registration. Breed judging takes place during the day at Piers 92 and 94. Group and Best in Show competition takes place in the evening at Madison Square Garden. Since 1992, Westminster has invited the top five dogs from each breed to pre-enter, based on dog show performances of the preceding year.

Charlie

Madison Square Garden generally sells out for the event, the WKC issuing up to 700 press credentials for media attending from no fewer than 20 countries. The Westminster website http://www.westminsterkennelclub.org receives about 20 million page views from 170 countries.

463811398Since the late 1960s, winner of the Westminster Best in Show has celebrated at Sardi’s, a popular mid-town eatery in the theater district and birthplace of the Tony award.

And then the Nanny State descended, pronouncing that 2012 would be the last. There shalt be no dogs dining in New York restaurants.  Not while Mayor Bloomberg is in charge.

Suddenly, Westminster found itself in good company.  The Algonquin, the historic hotel at the corners of 59th Street West & 44th, had taken in a stray cat, sometime back in the 1930s.  Ever since, one of a succession of felines have had the run of the place. The males have all been called “Hamlet”, the females, “Matilda”.

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Meet “Hamlet”, the Algonquin Hotel’s official Cat in Residence

And then his Lordship Mayor Yourslurpeeistoobig’s Board of Health descended on the Algonquin, requiring that the cat be kept on a leash. There ensued a tempest in a cat box, until a compromise was reached, later that year. An electronic pet fence was installed confining the cat to non-food areas of the hotel, in return for which city bureaucrats returned to whatever it is they do.

Back to the dog show.  Not wanting another such drama, Nanny Bloomberg pulled his health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley, aside. By the end of the week, the health department had found a loophole to defuse the standoff:  Dr. Farley would issue a waiver. Since then, the winner at Westminster is free to enjoy the traditional celebratory luncheon of diced chicken and rice from a silver platter. Provided that it’s eaten in the back room.

Feature Image, top of page:  “Rumor”, Best in Show winner, 2017
Ho Lee Schitt
This one slays me.  I couldn’t resist.
If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

April 28, 1933 Sacred Cod

So important was the Cod to the regional economy, that a carved likeness of the fish hung in the Massachusetts State House, fifty years or more before the Revolution.

The American Revolution was barely 15 years in the rear-view mirror, when the new State House opened in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston.  The building has expanded a couple of times since then, and remains the home of Massachusetts’ state government, to this day.

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On January 11, 1798, a procession of legislators and other dignitaries worked its way from the old statehouse at the intersection of Washington and State Streets to the new one on Beacon Hill, a symbolic transfer of the seat of government.  The procession carried with it, a bundle.  Measuring 4’11” and wrapped in an American flag, it was a life-size wooden carving.  Of a fish.

For the former Massachusetts colony, the Codfish had once been a key to survival.  Now, this “Sacred Cod” was destined for a new home in the legislative chamber of the House of Representatives.

download (72)Mark Kurlansky, author of “Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World”, laments the 1990s collapse of the Cod fishery, saying the species finds itself “at the wrong end of a 1,000-year fishing spree.”

Records exist from as early as AD985, of Eirik the Red, Leif Eirikson’s father, preserving Codfish by hanging them in the cold winter air.  Medieval Spaniards of the Basque region improved on the process, by the use of salt.  By A.D. 1,000, Basque traders were supplying a vast international market, in Codfish.

By 1550, Cod accounted for half the fish consumed in all Europe.  When the Puritans set sail for the new world it was to Cape Cod, to pursue the wealth of the New England fishery.

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Without Codfish, Plymouth Rock would likely have remained just another boulder. William Bradford, first signer of the Mayflower Compact in 1620 and 5-term governor of the Plymouth Colony (he called it “Plimoth”), reported that, but for the Cod fishery, there was talk of going to Manhattan or even Guiana:  “[T]he major part inclined to go to Plymouth, chiefly for the hope of present profit to be made by the fish that was found in that country“.

There are tales of sailors scooping Codfish out of the water, in baskets.  So important was the Cod to the regional economy, that a carved likeness of the creature hung in the old State House, fifty years or more before the Revolution.

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Massachusetts’ old Statehouse

The old State House burned in 1747, leaving nothing but the brick exterior you see today, not far from Faneuil Hall.  It took a year to rebuild the place, including a brand new wooden Codfish.  This one lasted until the British occupation of Boston, disappearing sometime between April 1775 and March 1776.

The fish which accompanied that procession in 1798 was the third, and so far the last such carving to hang in the Massachusetts State House, where it’s remains to this day.  Sort of.

With the country plunged into the Great Depression, someone looked up in Massachusetts’ legislative chamber, and spied – to his dismay – nothing but bare wires.  The Commonwealth had suffered “The Great Cod-napping”, of 1933.

Newspapers went wild with speculation about what happened to The Sacred Cod.

Suspects were questioned and police chased down one lead after another, but they all turned out to be red herring (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).  State police dredged the Charles River, (Love that dirty water).  Lawmakers refused D’Bait (pardon), preferring instead to discuss what they would do with the Cod-napper(s), if and when the evildoers were apprehended.

Soon, an anonymous tip revealed the culprits to be college pranksters, three editors of the Harvard Lampoon newspaper pretending to be tourists.  It was a two-part plan, the trio entering the building with wire cutters and a flower box, as other Lampoon members created a diversion by kidnapping an editor from the arch-rival newspaper, the Harvard Crimson.  The caper worked, flawlessly.  Everyone was busy looking for the missing victim, as two snips from a wire cutter brought down the Sacred Cod.

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Two days later, it was April 28.  A tip led University Police to a car with no license plate, cruising up the West Roxbury Parkway. After a 20-minute low speed chase, (I wonder if it was a white Bronco), the sedan pulled over.  Two men Carp’d the Diem (or something like that), and handed over the Sacred Cod, before driving away.

The Sacred Cod  resumed its rightful place, and once again, there was happiness upon the Land.  The Cod was stolen one more time in 1968, this time by UMASS students protesting some thing or other, but the fish never made it out of the State House.

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The “Holy Mackerel” of the Massachusetts State Senate

Years later, future Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill faced the Cod in the direction of the majority party.  It will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Bay State politics, that the thing has faced Left, from that day to this.  For Massachusetts’ minuscule Republican delegation, hope springs eternal that the Sacred Cod will one day, face Right.

Not to be outdone, the State Senate has its own fish, hanging in the legislative chambers.  There in the chandelier, above the round table where sits the Massachusetts upper house, is the copper likeness of the “Holy Mackerel”.  No kidding.  I wouldn’t fool around about a thing like that.

Legend has it that, when you see those highway signs saying X miles to Boston, they’re really giving you the distance to the Holy Mackerel.

A tip of my hat to my friend and Representative to the Great & General Court David T. Vieira, without whom I’d have remained entirely ignorant of this fishy tale.

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Beacon Hill, seat of Massachusetts state government, where the author addresses an empty chamber.  Maybe The Sacred Cod™ was listening.
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April 4, 1926 Sergeant Stubby

America’s first war dog, “Stubby”, got there by accident, and served 18 months ‘over there’, participating in seventeen battles on the Western Front.

By the last year of WW1, the French, British and Belgians had at least 20,000 dogs on the battlefield, the Germans 30,000. General Headquarters of the American Expeditionary Forces recommended the use of dogs as sentries, messengers and draft animals in the spring of 1918. However, with the exception of a few sled dogs in Alaska, the US was the only country to take part in World War I with virtually no service dogs in its military.

sgt_stubby_7America’s first war dog, “Stubby”, got there by accident, and served 18 months ‘over there’, participating in seventeen battles on the Western Front.

Stubby looked like a terrier of some kind, similar to a pit bull.  Nobody knows anything more about him.  He showed up a stray one day, at Yale Field in New Haven Connecticut, where a group of soldiers were training. The dog hung around as the men drilled.  One soldier, Corporal Robert Conroy, began to take care of him. when Conroy’s outfit shipped out in 1917, Stubby was hidden on board.

Stubby saved his regiment from surprise mustard gas attacks, located and comforted the wounded, and even once caught a German spy by the seat of his pants. The Hun, who’d been sneaking around behind allied lines at the time, was mapping trenches for artillery bombardment.  The Bosch was found spinning in circles with a large, muscular terrier affixed to his behind.   He was easily disarmed, but it took a considerable amount of coaxing before Stubby could be persuaded to let go of that German’s rear end.

sgt_stubby_5Stubby saw his first action at Chemin des Dames. Since the boom of artillery fire didn’t faze him, he learned to follow the example of ducking when the big ones came close. It became a great game to see who could hit the dugout, first.  After a few days, the guys were watching him for a signal. Stubby was always the first to hear incoming fire.  We can only guess how many lives were spared by his early warning.

images (47)After the Armistice, Stubby returned home a nationally acclaimed hero, eventually received by both Presidents Harding and Coolidge. Even General John “Black Jack” Pershing, who commanded the AEF during the war, presented Stubby with a gold medal made by the Humane Society, declaring him to be a “hero of the highest caliber.”

Stubby toured the country by invitation and probably led more parades than any dog in American history:  he was promoted to honorary Sergeant by the Legion, becoming the highest ranking dog to ever serve in the Army.

Old age finally caught up with the small warrior on April 4th, 1926, as he took ill and died in his master’s arms.

Sergeant Stubby and a few of his contemporaries were instrumental in inspiring the creation of the US K-9 Corps, just in time for World War ll.

 

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March 9, 1910 Brown Dog

In the five years I’ve been writing “Today in History”, I’ve written about 450 of these stories.  A father isn’t supposed to have favorites among his “children”, but I have to confess.  I do.  This is not one of those.  This one, I detest.

In the five years I’ve been writing “Today in History”, I’ve written about 450 of these stories.  A father isn’t supposed to have favorites among his “children”, but I have to confess.  I do.  This is not one of those.  This one, I detest.

The Oxford on-line Dictionary defines vivisection as: “noun – the practice of performing operations on live animals for the purpose of experimentation or scientific research”.

During the reign of Queen Victoria, British monarch from June 20, 1837 to January 22, 1901, a powerful opposition arose in Great Britain to the dissection of live animals. Labeled as “vivisection” by opponents of the practice, experiments were often performed in front of audiences of medical students, with or without anesthesia.

Ernest_Starling
Ernest Starling

The Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876 stipulated that subject animals must be anesthetized, unless anesthesia would interfere with the point of the experiment. The measure further required that each animal could only be used once, though multiple procedures were permitted so long as each was part of the same experiment.

In the end, the subject animal had to be killed when the study was over.

In 1902, about the time when Russian physiologist Ivan Petrovich Pavlov was doing his conditioning experiments om dogs, Ernest Starling performed his first “experiment” on a small brown terrier.  Whether a stray or someone’s pet, is unclear.  A further “demonstration” was performed on the same animal by William Bayliss on February 2, 1903, at the end of which the dog was killed with a knife to the heart.

William_Bayliss_1918b
William Bayliss

I don’t care to linger on the details of what was done to this dog.  It was difficult enough, to read about it.  Suffice it to say that Bayliss and Starling’s classes were infiltrated by two Swedish anti-vivisection activists, Lizzy Lind and Leisa Katherine Schartau.

The two women had attended 50 such classes at University College, keeping a diary throughout and later publishing observations in “The Shambles of Science: Extracts from the Diary of Two Students of Physiology”. In it, the pair disputed that the brown dog had been anesthetized, reporting that “The dog struggled forcibly during the whole experiment and seemed to suffer extremely during the stimulation. No anesthetic had been administered in my presence, and the lecturer said nothing about any attempts to anesthetize the animal having previously been made”.

Stephen_Coleridge,_Vanity_Fair,_July_1910_(cropped)
Stephen Coleridge,, Vanity Fair,, July 1910

Stephen Coleridge, secretary of the National Anti-Vivisection Society heard the two women’s story, and spoke angrily on behalf of the terrier.  “If this is not torture”, the barrister asked, “let Mr. Bayliss and his friends … tell us in Heaven’s name what torture is“.

There was little doubt that either professor if not both, would sue for libel.  Bayliss did and the jury retired for 25 minutes, returning with a unanimous verdict.  Bayliss was awarded £2,000 with £3,000 in court costs, equivalent to about £250,000 today, the verdict read to the applause of physicians in the public gallery.

On September 15, 1906, the World League against Vivisection unveiled a statue in Battersea’s Latchmere Recreation Ground, bearing the inscription “In Memory of the Brown Terrier Dog Done to Death in the Laboratories of University College in February 1903 after having endured Vivisection extending over more than Two Months and having been handed over from one Vivisector to Another Till Death came to his Release. Also in Memory of the 232 dogs Vivisected at the same place during the year 1902. Men and Women of England how long shall these Things be?”

Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw and Anglo-Irish suffragist Charlotte Despard spoke at the event, but medical students were outraged.

Brown_Dog_statue,_Battersea,_London(2)London’s teaching hospitals at first explored quiet means of taking down what they regarded as an insult to the profession.  By November, medical students were crossing the Thames with sledge hammers and crow bars, intending to take matters into their own hands.

Riots ensued, the worst nights occurring in London on December 10, 1907, when 1,000 medical students tried to pull the statue down, battling over the memorial with suffragettes, trade unionists and over 400 police officers.

More riots and brawls broke out in the weeks that followed.  Before long, the authorities were looking for a quiet way to make the statue go away.  Four workmen and 120 police officers quietly removed the Brown Dog Memorial over the night of March 9-10, 1910, hiding it in a bicycle shed. 3,000 anti-vivisectionists gathered in Trafalgar Square to demand its return, but to no avail.  The statue never reappeared, later to be broken up and melted down.

dsc04730Seventy-five years would come and go, before a new Brown Dog memorial was commissioned by the National Anti-Vivisection Society and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection.

For all the fuss, it hardly made a difference. There were something like 300 experiments on live animals, in the year 1875.  By the time of the brown terrier’s live dissection, the number was 19,084.  In 2005 the figure had increased to 2.81 million, and that’s just the vertebrates. 7,306 of those, were dogs.

Image – top ofpage.  Original brown dog statue, from 1906