Archive for April, 2015

More Animal Tales Are Hatching

Posted: April 30, 2015 in Cat Stories

The Hatching Cat is currently away on business and will be back next week with more animal stories of Old New York. Up next will be the diving ponies of Coney Island and a great cat story about a famous literary feline of the Gilded Age. Thank you for following along on this historical journey

In the meantime, if you did not see the article about the Hatching Cat in Newsweek this week, here is a link. Please share on Twitter or Facebook.

My full-time corporate position has taken priority and put a pause to my blogging pursuit.

My full-time corporate position has taken priority and put a pause to my A-Z publishing pursuit.

Ever since the first Christmas tree went up in 1931, and the outdoor skating rink opened in 1936, Rockefeller Center has been associated with ice skaters and the winter holiday season. But what many people may not know is that the Prometheus Fountain in the sunken plaza at Rockefeller Center has also been home to a few sea lions and penguins during the off season.

On July 2, 1941, four sea lions from the Bronx Zoo were delivered to Rockefeller Center for an experimental display. The sea lions – Dixie, Trixie, Frankie, and Johnnie — arrived in two crates with their zoo keepers, John Martini and John Olsen. All four were released into the Prometheus Fountain pool in the sunken plaza without difficulty.

Sea Lion Prometheus Fountain

One of the visiting sea lions — perhaps Pete — gets fed in the Prometheus Fountain pool. Every day the sea lions were each fed seven pounds of butterfish.

The sea lions were an immediate hit with children and their mothers, as well as with businessmen who came to visit them on their lunch breaks. They were so popular, in fact, that a few more sea lions from California were added about a week later, including one named Pete.

From Pool to the Promenade

While most of the sea lions were content to swim in their new midtown pool, two-year-old Frankie was a bit more adventurous. On the first day that Frankie and his friends arrived, he climbed up on the ledge of the pool, surveyed his surroundings, and scaled over the 1 ½-foot high fence into the Promenade Café.

He then made a beeline for two women who were eating lunch. He perched on his tail fin, bobbed his head over the table, and begged for a handout (I guess the seven pounds of butterfish he was fed every day was not enough).

Prometheus sculpture and the RCA Building in Rockefeller Center.

The Prometheus Fountain was built in 1934, two years before the outdoor skating rink opened at Rockefeller Center. To coincide with the unveiling of the statue, the City Gardens Club designed a garden for the sunken plaza, shown here in this 1940 photo. It was in this pool that the sea lions and penguins frolicked in 1941. Museum of the City of New York Collections

The two zoo keepers and some other guards immediately came to the women’s rescue and led Frankie back to the pool. They told reporters they would obviously have to keep a constant watch on the sea lions until the fence could be raised.

After that incident, things went swimmingly well until August 15, when it was time for the sea lions to move out and the penguins to move in. At about 10:15 a.m., as four keepers were hoisting the sea lions’ crates into a New York Zoological truck, Pete broke free and landed on Fifth Avenue. All 450 pounds of him.

Elgin Botanical Garden

The land now occupied by Rockefeller Center was once the site of the Elgin Botanic Garden, the first botanical garden in New York State. The gardens were established in 1801 by Dr. David Hosack (the doctor who attended to Alexander Hamilton after his fatal duel with Aaron Burr), who purchased about 20 acres of land between Middle Road (Fifth Avenue), Sixth Avenue, 47th Street and 51st Street for $4,807. The gardens featured a conservatory for the preservation of green house plants, two hot-houses, and a pond for aquatic species. The whole establishment was surrounded by trees and shrubs and a 7-foot stone wall. Ten years after they opened, the gardens were turned over to the Regents of the University (now known as SUNY Board of Regents). They were eventually abandoned, fell into decay, and later transferred to Columbia College.

Patrolmen in Pursuit

As Pete started waddling up Fifth Avenue, John and John the zoo keepers jumped from the cab of the truck and ran into a store shouting for brooms. Two other keepers and three New York City patrolmen joined in the pursuit, each brandishing a broom. A crowd of onlookers that had come to welcome the penguins turned their attention to Pete the sea lion instead.

British Empire Building

Pete waddled up Fifth Avenue until he reached the British Empire Building, shown here (right) in 1940. Built in 1932, the building was meant to showcase British culture and commerce, although it has mostly served as office and retail space. Museum of the City of New York Collections

After ducking under a car for a few minutes, Pete continued on his way, poking his wet nose into the posh shops and nudging the shoppers and pedestrians. Alas, his adventure came to an end when he reached the entrance of Yardley & Co. in the British Empire Building at 620 Fifth Avenue. As he tried to batter his way inside, the clerks locked the door, giving the keepers time to capture him.

Mind you, while all this commotion was happening with Pete the sea lion, Annie and about a dozen other penguins from the Bronx Zoo and New York Aquarium were gearing up for the second act at the Prometheus Fountain pool.

This group included 12 black-footed penguins that came from South Africa and three Humboldt penguins from the west coast of Brazil. Twelve zoo keepers were on hand day and night to help keep the peace among the two groups.

Penguins at Rockefeller Center

The penguins use a makeshift ramp to go from the upper and lower pools of the Prometheus Fountain at Rockefeller Center.

Like the sea lions, the penguins were also a big hit with the public. The favorite penguin was Fuddy-Dud, who kept the crowd laughing as he slid down the ramp from the upper to the lower pool. To prevent the penguins from smelling fishy, they were all sprayed every day with a fragrant scent to counteract their natural odor.

According to news reports, the penguins and sea lions proved so popular that summer, the Rockefellers at one time considered getting some polar bears for the pool. I’m sure that would have worked out just fine.

Michael J. O'Donnell and penguins at Rockefeller Center

Five-year-old Bronx resident Michael “Mickey” J. O’Donnell, a junior curator of domestic goats at the Bronx Zoo, leads the penguins to the pool at Rockefeller Center in August 1941.


Only a dog do you say, Sir Critic?
Only a dog, but as truth I prize,
The truest love I have won in living
Lay in the deeps of her limpid eyes.

Frosts of winter nor heat of summer
Could make her fail if my footsteps led:
And memory holds in its treasure casket
The name of my darling who lieth dead.

Fannie Howe Green-Wood Cemetery

Fannie Howe’s monument is engraved with a few lines of the poem Flight, written by Miss M.A. Collins (aka S.M.A.C.), a 19th-century author and tobacco plantation owner from Tennessee. The poem first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post sometime prior to 1876.

On the southwest corner of Battle Avenue and Hemlock Avenue in Brooklyn, just down from the Civil War Soldier’s Monument on Battle Hill in Green-Wood Cemetery, there is a circular plot of grass (lots 19967 and 19970) surrounded by a low wall of Quincy granite. In the center, there is a granite monument with a once-bronze bust of a long-haired man and the name “Howe” engraved in large letters.

In this plot are buried Elias Howe, Jr., his second wife, Rose Halladay Howe, and several other family members. One of the family members reportedly buried in this plot is Fannie, Mrs. Howe’s beloved pure-bred Pug.

Fannie the Pug came into Rose Halladay Howe’s life about two years after her husband, Elias Howe Jr., passed away. Elias Howe Jr., as you may or may not recall from your grammar school history lessons, is credited with inventing the sewing machine (nope, it wasn’t Singer).

Elias Howe Jr. Plot

Elias Howe Jr. and his second wife, Rose, are buried in this lovely circular plot near Battle Hill. Although many sources claim Fannie was the favorite dog of Elias, he died about two years before Fannie was reportedly born. It was Rose Howe who purchased the monument to memorialize her loyal canine companion.

Actually, Thomas Frank developed the first sewing machine in 1790, but it wasn’t practical. Elias was granted a patent for the lockstitch (the basic stitch made by a sewing machine) in 1846. This patent expired in 1867, the same year Elias died of Bright’s disease (kidney disease) at the young age of 48.

Although Fannie was only a dog, she was quite well known in New York City’s canine society. For twelve years, she lived with her mistress in a luxury brownstone at 330 Clinton Avenue in Brooklyn. Rose and Elias never had any children together (Elias had three children with his first wife, Elizabeth Jennings Ames), so Fannie was quite the pampered pooch.

When Fannie died on December 10, 1881, Rose Howe was inconsolable. According to an article published in 1889 in the Brooklyn Eagle, she insisted that the Pug was entitled to a funeral “such as never before was given a dumb animal in this country.”

Elias Howe Jr.

In 1854, Elias Howe sued Isaac Singer, who was using Howe’s patented lockstitch and incorporating it into his own sewing machines. Howe won the case, and the royalties he earned (retrospective to 1846) made him a millionaire. He donated much of this money to his fellow Union Army soldiers during the Civil War.

Cards were immediately delivered announcing the funeral, and friends of Mrs. Howe came from all over New York and Brooklyn to her house bearing floral arrangements to honor Fannie. Some of the women also brought their dogs so they could also participate in mourning.

There was a quartet who sang many songs, including Stephen Foster’s “Old Dog Tray'” and Rose’s minister friend offered a funeral sermon. All the while, the body of Fannie reposed in a silver casket with a glass cover, completely draped with a gold embroidered white cloth, only her face exposed.

Elias Howe Jr.

After Elias Howe died in 1867, he was buried in his home state of Massachusetts at Cambridge Cemetery. When Rose died in 1890, his body was moved and husband and wife were both buried together with – allegedly—Fannie in the family plot at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Shortly after the doggie funeral, news quickly spread that Rose Howe had buried Fannie in Green-Wood Cemetery. Some people viewed this as a desecration of the cemetery, especially since the burial reportedly took place “in the most aristocratic portion of the Celebrated City of the Dead.”

In 1889, a person wrote to the editor of the Brooklyn Eagle to ask for confirmation of whether or not a dog was buried at the cemetery. The newspaper said that their call to the cemetery brought a reply that dogs were not allowed to be buried there, and that this was a rule the Board of Trustees had passed a few years ago.

In fact, it was at the annual meeting of the lot-owners of Green-Wood Cemetery on March 17, 1880, held at 30 Broadway in Manhattan, that this specific report of the Board of Trustees for 1879 was read.

Stephen Collins Foster

Stephen Collins Foster (1826 – 1864), known as “the Father of American music”, wrote “Old Dog Tray” in 1853. However, many of the over 200 other songs he wrote were much more popular then and now, like “Oh! Susanna,” “Camptown Races,” “Beautiful Dreamer,” and “I Dream of Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair.”

In that report, titled “The Records of the Great Burial Ground for 1879,” and published in The New York Times on March 18, 1880, it states:

“The interment in Green-Wood, in a private lot, of a favorite dog, elicited much comment, and was the occasion of many remonstrances, verbal and written, being addressed to the Trustees, requesting them to prohibit such interments in the future. The intensity of feeling exhibited in these communications, however differently the subject might be viewed by others, could not but be respected, and the board accordingly passed a resolution prohibiting hereafter all interments of brute animals in the cemetery.”

We know that Fannie died and was buried in 1881 — two years after the Board of Trustees passed this ruling prohibiting animal burials. So that leaves a few questions: Who was the dog that so many people complained about prior to 1879?

Could it have been John E. Stow’s Rex or Laddie, the two other dogs which have monuments in the cemetery? And, was Rose Howe able to somehow bury her loyal friend after the rule against four-footed family members took effect at Green-Wood, or was Fannie buried in Rose’s backyard, as one gentleman told the Brooklyn Eagle in 1889?

What I do know is that the only “dogs” mentioned in the Board of Trustees report for 1881 were the 100 dogwood trees that were planted in the cemetery that year (the lot-owners also introduced 40 gray squirrels to the cemetery in 1881). I also know that in January 1890, Thomas Merchant, superintendent of interments at Green-Wood Cemetery, told a reporter from the Buffalo News that no animals were buried in the cemetery. He was also unable to explain the inscription on Fannie’s monument and declined to discuss the matter.

I guess for now we’ll just have to let sleeping dogs lie.

Flight, M.A. Collins

Here is Miss M.A. Collins’ complete ode to only a dog.