Archive for December, 2013

Paddy Reilly, mascot of Humane Society of New York

Women couldn’t resist making a donation when they saw Paddy Reilly in his derby hat. Here he’s shown with his owner, Alice Manchester, in 1935. Photo: HSNY

In previous posts, I wrote about the reindeer on display at the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in 1944, and about the horses that delivered the first public Christmas tree to Madison Square Park in 1912. In this story, I’m going to tell you about the annual Christmas tree and party for New York City’s four-legged critters, which was sponsored by the Humane Society of New York.

But first, let me introduce you to Paddy Reilly, the featured canine in this holiday tale.

Paddy Reilly was a tan and white terrier mix that, his owner insisted, was born on St. Patrick’s Day in 1927. Although he was bred to live the outdoor life in his birthplace of Newport, Wales, his fate changed when, at three months old, he was purchased by Miss Alice Manchester of England. The young woman brought Paddy to live with her in Detroit and Miami before finally settling down in New York City. When Miss Manchester joined the Humane Society of New York in 1933, Paddy became its first mascot.

During his six years as mascot, Paddy was attributed to saving a total of about 10 animals and 40 people, including two kittens — Orphan Annie and Mickey Mouse — that he helped rescue from the bottom of an ash can; two children who were drowning in Miami; 13 people in his Detroit apartment when it caught fire (his fur was singed in this event); and 20 people in his new York apartment building, whom he saved by barking when he smelled escaping gas one night. Paddy won numerous medals for his heroic deeds, including one from movie star Bette Davis, who was once president of the Tailwaggers in Hollywood.

Paddy Reilly saved animals and people

During his six years as mascot of the Humane Society, Paddy was attributed to saving about 10 animals and 40 people, including 2 drowning children in Miami and a woman who was drowning in Jamaica Bay.

Paddy Reilly was also the darling of the New York City media, making annual appearances in the newspapers on his birthday and barking scripts on radio shows. He even served as “Canine Grand Marshall” for the Children’s Day parade at the World’s Fair in 1939.

Rosie the mechanical elephant

On September 6, 1939, Paddy Reilly served as “Canine Grand Marshall” for the Children’s Day parade at the World’s Fair. One report said the terrier rode astride Rosie, the mechanical elephant shown here, but in fact he just watched the parade from his glassed-in kennel. Photo: NYPL

Paddy’s primarily role was chief fundraiser for the society, in which he helped to raise thousands of dollars in coins and recruit hundreds of new members. He could often be found collecting funds outside the New York Public Library or on Fulton Street at Gallatin Place in Brooklyn. Wearing a straw hat and holding a pipe in his teeth, or donning a comical derby hat given to him by former Governor Alfred E. Smith, he garnered much attention. Women would exclaim, “Oh, isn’t he cute!” and then drop coins in his cup.

The Animals’ Christmas Tree and Holiday Party

During the Christmas holidays in the 1930s, Paddy worked as officiate for the Christmas tree party for horses and indoor holiday party for pets sponsored by the Humane Society. The society began this annual Yuletide event in 1921 to “celebrate all good dogs, cats, and horses” in the city. In early years, the festivities took place at the society’s headquarters at 44 Seventh Avenue (at 14th Street).

Humane Society New York Christmas Tree

In early years, the Christmas festivities took place at the society’s headquarters at 44 Seventh Avenue and Harry D. Moran, superintendent of the society, played Santa Claus (shown here in 1925) Photo: HSNY.

As hundreds of youngsters and their pets received gifts of leashes, dog biscuits, cans of sardines, and fancy collars indoors, numerous horses and their drivers enjoyed the tree outdoors, which was adorned with horse blankets, bridles, feed bags, and red stockings filled with apples, carrots, and lump sugar. Harry Daniel Moran, superintendent of the Humane Society of New York, would dress up as Santa Claus every year to hand out all the gifts.

In 1933, Paddy’s first year as mascot, all the dogs received collars, leads, and bones; the short-haired dogs also received blankets. Many cats also attended the party, including Whitey, the mascot cat of the Jefferson Market Court, who had been recovering from an injury at the clinic. Whitey and the other cats seemed to enjoy their new collars with bells and cans of sardines (there was no catnip), which were handed out by the society’s vet, Dr. William Dohm, who played Santa that year.

In 1935, the party moved uptown to the Humane Society’s new headquarters in a little red brick house at 313 East 58th Street. To help announce the new location, members of the Kips Bay Boy Scouts, Troop 42, played their bugles and drums to attract a crowd to the tree outside the headquarters. That year, Paddy dressed as Santa and greeted each animal to the event. He first welcomed the horses outdoors – to which he was very friendly – and then greeted the cats, dogs, and other critters “more or less graciously” at the doorway.

313 East 58th Street, Humane Society of New York

In 1935, the Humane Society of New York moved its headquarters to a little red brick house at 313 East 58th Street. Paddy Reilly’s last birthday party took place here on March 18, 1939. In this photo from the 1950s, it looks like the building had already been painted white, as it is today. Photo: HSNY

In Paddy’s Honor

On September 15, 1939 — just 9 days after he led the children’s parade at the World’s Fair — Paddy passed away from toxic poisoning of the kidneys. A month later, a memorial fund dedicated to Paddy was started to help establish a free clinic for dogs in Brooklyn.

To honor her dog’s passing, Miss Manchester founded the Greenwich Village Humane League in November 1939, with headquarters at 100 Greenwich Street. Each year the league hosted National Dog Week Ceremonies, where members would present a Paddy Reilly Hero Medal to a well-deserving, life-saving dog. Alice dedicated the rest of her life to saving animals, and even lived at the league’s headquarters so she could be available 24 hours a day.

100 Greenwich Avenue

In 1938, the Greenwich Village Humane League moved into 100 Greenwich Avenue, shown here. Alice Manchester moved the organization to 55 Eighth Avenue in 1942, to 40 Eighth Avenue in the 1950s, and to 51 Eighth Avenue in 1960.

During a dedication ceremony at the league’s new Eighth Avenue clinic on December 11, 1942, four-year-old Paddy Reilly Jr., son of Paddy, took over as master of ceremonies.

The Humane Society at 313 East 58th Street

In 1935, the Humane Society of New York moved its headquarters to a little red brick house at 313 East 58th Street. When I found out this house was still standing, I made plans to check it out on a recent weekend romp.

The Civil War–era home was built in 1856-57 by Hiram G. Disbrow, a mason builder who was the first resident of the home. On July 14, 1970, the little house was designated a Registered Historical Landmark. Francis Kelly, a past president of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, called it a “surviving example of ‘Little Old New York,’” especially with its “noteworthy” porch, which he said is practically non-existent in Manhattan.

313 East 58th Street

Although the building is only three windows wide and two stories high, it’s really not as small as one would think. In fact, it has 5,400 square feet of living space, including a large restaurant kitchen with walk-in cold storage and prep areas in the full basement. From the Collection of P. Gavan

Years after the Humane Society moved to their new headquarters on 59th Street, the building was home to Le Club, an exclusive dance club that opened there in 1982 and had a membership that included Al Pacino, Pia Lindstrom, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Later, in 1997, the building was home to Two Rooms, an eclectic restaurant and lounge, and then in 1999, the Landmark Club, a restaurant owned by Shamsher Wadud. The property is currently used by Cipriani Sutton caterers for private parties. From the outside, one would not believe how incredible it looks inside — check it out for yourself!

Pirate Cats of Chelsea Piers

During World War I and World War II, hundreds of cats from all over the world were left stranded on the Chelsea Piers in New York when the troopships and freighters they had stowed away on left the harbor without them. Even years after the wars ended, these refugee mascots still prowled the piers at night in search of food and shelter. The news media called them the “Chelsea Pirate Cats.”

During the post-war Christmas holidays, when there were few ships at port – and the few remaining crews were spending the holiday ashore – the pirate cats that lived in the sheds along the Hudson River (then called the North River) were hard-pressed to find a meal. At night, their howls of protest could be heard all along the waterfront.

Chelsea Piers White Star

Chelsea Piers served as a passenger ship terminal in the early 1900s for several passenger lines, including the White Star Line. Today the piers are used by the Chelsea Piers Sports & Entertainment Complex.

In December 1922, Woo-ki, a one-eyed Chinese feline from Fuzhou (Foochow), was the leader of the pack. He had stowed away on the freighter Wei-hai-Wan and arrived in New York a few weeks earlier, and had quickly risen in power to Chief Pirate Cat.

Woo-ki would lead the stranded stowaway cats toward the Customs guards on duty, and encourage them to try to steal the men’s dinners.

On Christmas Eve that year, Woo-ki and his band of refugee cats zeroed in on veteran watchman Sam Meders. (Sam told a news reporter that he had to carry his dinner around all day to keep it away from the hungry felines.)

Apparently the band of pirate cats realized that a large Christmas feast was being prepared on the White Star Line’s Olympic, and they had no intention of being left out of the celebration. They apparently also knew a sucker when they saw one.

The Olympic in camouflage during WWI

During World War I, the Olympic – painted in dazzle camouflage — served as a troopship with the capacity to transport up to 6,000 soldiers. Her impressive WWI service earned her the nickname Old Reliable.

Christmas on the RMS Olympic

On Christmas Day 1922, the Olympic was the only American ship docked at the Chelsea Piers whose crew did not go ashore to celebrate the holiday. She had just returned to New York a few days earlier from Southampton and Cherbourg; her masts were covered with ice and some glass ports on the “D” and “E” decks were broken by the heavy seas she had encountered en route.

On Christmas morning, though, her saloons were decorated with holly and evergreens in preparation for a holiday feast of turkey, plum pudding, and mince pie. The festivities began at 9:30 a.m. with 15 athletic competitions on the pier for the crew, including sack races, an egg and spoon race, and a tug of war between married and single men (the married men reportedly almost always won the tug of war.)

RMS Olympic crew, 1911

In 1911, the original crew of the RMS Olympic included Captain Edward John Smith and many other members of the crew who would later serve on the Titanic’s maiden voyage.

At 1 p.m. the men enjoyed their Christmas dinner, which was accompanied by beer for the crew and red and white wine for the officers and engineers. What these men probably didn’t realize, however, was that they were not the first ones to dine on the ship that day…

Like all cats I know – at least the two spoiled cats that live in my house – their constant pestering worked. According to Sam, their howling and begging whittled down his defenses, and by Christmas Day, the felines had prevailed.

Grand Staircase, RMS Olympic

Can you imagine the stray pirate cats making their way down the Grand Staircase of the Olympic on Christmas Day?

I can’t quite imagine how he was able to do this – and it’s actually very comical if you try to picture this – but at 8 a.m. Sam mustered up the four-legged pack and took them aboard the Olympic. Once on the ship, the crafty kitties were invited to partake in their very own feast fit for kings – or should I say pirates.

Two days following the Christmas dinner, the crew of the Olympic performed their annual Christmas concert in the White Star Line’s waiting room at Pier 61. I like to believe that a large number of pirate cats were in attendance, providing backup to the chorus.

Dewey Arch, Madison Square, New York, 1900

Modeled after the Arch of Titus in Rome, the Dewey Arch was carved in about six weeks by 28 renowned sculptors. The arch was topped by a quadriga sculpted by J.Q.A. Ward, with four seahorses pulling a ship. Lower down were portrait sculptures of such naval heroes as Commodore John Paul Jones, Commodore Matthew C. Perry, and Admiral David Glasgow Farragut. The arch and six double-trophy columns were lit by electric lights at night.

Prior to May 1898, 60-year old Commodore George Dewey was a little-known leader of the U.S. Navy’s Asiatic Fleet. All that changed during the Spanish-American War, when Dewey was wired from Washington to attack the Spanish navy in retaliation for Spain’s assail on the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor.

The Commodore directed his command vessel, the U.S.S. Olympia, to Manila Bay in the Philippines, where she was victorious over the rotting wood ships of the Spanish Armada. This stunning naval victory over Spain established the U.S. as a global military power, and elevated Commodore Dewey as the country’s greatest hero.

Once city leaders realized Dewey was coming to New York in September, plans were made for a magnificent two-day tribute that would include a grandiose parade on September 30, a fireworks display, and illumination of the harbor. It was also decided to erect a ceremonial arch and colonnade on Fifth Avenue at 24th Street to permanently honor the war hero. The city hired architect Charles R. Lamb, who, along with fellow members of the National Sculpture Society, designed the $26,000, 100-foot-tall Dewey Arch.

Commodore Dewey, together with New York Mayor Robert A. Van Wyck

Commodore Dewey, together with New York Mayor Robert A. Van Wyck, led the grand parade in a horse-drawn carriage, a beautiful Victoria pulled by four sturdy bays. Forty-three other coaches, filled with political and naval dignitaries, followed, along with almost 35,000 military personnel.

Because there was very little time, however, the planners decided to first build a temporary arch out of staff, which was made of plaster and wood shavings. Later, the arch would be reproduced in white marble and made permanent. (This was how the Washington Square Arch had been constructed just a few years earlier.)

A Home for Olympia and Her Kittens

So what does all this historic stuff have to do with a cat and her kittens? The temporary construction of the Dewey Arch is the key to this Christmas cat tale.

Following the celebrations in September 1899, the arch began to quickly deteriorate. Passing vehicles and carriage wheels made several large holes in the base of the double trophy-columns, and souvenir seekers had also begun chipping off pieces of the arch (bits sold for 15 cents each). But that was just fine for one large grey cat that roamed the streets near Madison Square — a hole in the corner of one of the columns would be the perfect place to give birth to her kittens.

According to the true story, two weeks before Christmas the stray feline took refuge in the hole. The following morning, the cabmen who were stationed across from the Fifth Avenue Hotel heard mewing sounds coming from within. When they investigated, they found the mother cat – whom they named Olympia – nursing four newborn kittens. The kittens were adopted by the cabmen, who named them Dewey, George, Manila, and Cavite.

USS Olympia (C-6/CA-15/CL-15/IX-40)

The cabmen named the mother cat Olympia, after the flagship of Commodore George Dewey at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War in 1898.

Following the cabmen’s discovery, a nearby shopkeeper provided a bed of excelsior shavings for the feline family’s home and the hotel supplied some food (including raw beef and maybe even some Lobster a la Newberg). The cabmen also donated tidbits from their lunches to help nourish the mother cat.

During the two weeks leading to Christmas, the cabmen and stalwart policemen guarded over the new cat family, protecting them from the newsboys and thousands of other curious strangers who tried to either grab or taunt them. The men also kept a constant lookout for Christmas shoppers who attempted to kidnap the kittens. Olympia often left the niche to stroll down Fifth Avenue on her own, although on one of her ventures she carried a kitten in her mouth and presented it to one of the cabmen.

This fabulous video from 1899 shows all the traffic at the arch:

On Christmas Day, the cabmen and policemen presented Olympia with a special holiday dinner. The New York Times called her “the happiest cat in New York this Christmas,” noting her meal would comprise several courses of “the most luxurious viands to be secured on Fifth Avenue.” The kittens also received a present (although I’m not sure they were too thrilled by this): The cabmen said that once they were old enough, they would all go for a ride in an automobile.

Dewey Arch Madison Square

This view of the Dewey Arch shows the double-trophy columns and the edge of Madison Square Park.

The Demise of the Dewey Arch

There are no reports on how long Olympia and her kittens called the Arch their home, but the structure was also apparently home to homeless men in the warmer months. On July 15, 1900, the Times reported many gaping holes in the columns were occupied by transient men (the police called it the Dewey Arch Hotel). In August 1900 The New York Evening Post called the deteriorating arch an “eyesore and disgrace” that was “becoming a public danger.”

An attempt to raise money to have the arch rebuilt with more durable materials failed, and Colonel William Conant Church announced that all donations would be returned. At a meeting of the Municipal Assembly in November 1900, a resolution was passed unanimously by both houses authorizing Commissioner James P. Keating of the Department of Streets and Highways to spend the money appropriated for repairing the structure to tear it down.

William Conant Church

William Conant Church (1836 – 1917) served in the Civil War and was a life member and director of the New York Zoological Society. In 1900, he was in charge of a citizen’s Arch Perpetuation Committee that fought to make the Dewey Arch a permanent structure.

On November 15, Mayor Robert A. Van Wyck signed an ordinance directing the demolition of the arch; at 8 p.m. that same day, the crew — a dozen men with pickaxes, crowbars, and shovels — appeared at Madison Square and started to remove the columns.

Dewey Arch Battle Group

One of the four Battle Groups that were temporarily preserved from the Dewey Arch. The groups included Call to Arms, Battle, Return of the Victors, and Peace.

A few days after the demolition work had begun, the committee received an offer for the arch from Bradford Lee Gilbert, architect for the South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition. Although a crowd of boys had punched holes in the top (making it look like “a colossal pepper box”), Gilbert took what was the left of the arch back to Charleston.

Art Palace, Charleston

As the photo shows, Gilbert placed two of the arch’s battle group sculptures on either side of the Art Palace at the South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition. Photo: George Grantham Bain News Service

In June 1902, the exposition closed and the Art Palace, along with the remains of the arch, was demolished. Today, the only existing reminder of the Dewey Arch is a bar and restaurant called Dewey’s Flatiron, which opened in 1996 on Fifth Avenue near 25th Street. With its murals of the Battle of Manila Bay and a replica of the Dewey Arch atop the back bar, it serves as a reminder of the Admiral’s big day at Madison Square. (Although who knows, there may also be some pieces of the arch among old keepsake boxes in closets or attics.)

The bar at Dewy's Flatiron

The replica of the Dewey Arch at Dewey’s Flatiron is a reminder of the great war hero and the fabulous arch that once adorned Fifth Avenue.