Archive for August, 2015

General Muff, cat of Mary L. Booth

General Muff had a wardrobe of collars of all kinds and colors, from dainty ribbon to Russian leather. Here he poses for a portrait wearing his “Fayal collar,” which was supposedly crafted in the Azores in Portugal.

May it be long before Muff’s gracious personality requires an epitaph, but when that time comes, the following lines will apply to him as fitly as to the one for whom they were written, the poet Whittier’s cat, Bathsheba:
“Whereat none said ‘Scat!’
Better cat never sat
On a mat, or caught a rat,
Than this cat. Requiescat!”
–Famous Pets of Famous People, Eleanor Lewis, 1892

For much of the first half of the 19th century, the Upper East Side of Manhattan remained very rural, to say the least. Most of the territory – about one-seventh of the acreage of Manhattan — had been owned by the city since the 1686 Dongan Charter of the City of New York, which granted to the city “all the waste, vacant, unpatented, and unappropriated lands.” The city maintained possession of these common lands for over a century, but would occasionally sell off small parcels and make them available under 21-year leases to raise funds for municipal projects.

Park Avenue tunnel

For more than 40 years, much of the double-track line along Fourth Avenue was at grade level. This created a hazard for humans as well as livestock (a locomotive once reportedly hit a cow at East 58th Street.). In 1872, construction began on the two-mile Beam Tunnel, shown here. The tunnel was completely renovated in the 1980s.

During the late 1700s and early 1800s, many of the parcels in the Upper East Side were purchased by wealthy New Yorkers as speculative investments in anticipation of a real estate boom. One of these men was Isaac Adriance, an early member of the St. Nicholas Society of the City of New York who bought a considerable amount of land along Fourth Avenue (present-day Park Avenue) from about 50th Street to Harlem.

Development began in earnest with the chartering of the New York & Harlem Railroad (NY&H), which opened a double-track horse-car line along Fourth Avenue from 23rd Street to the hamlet of Harlem in 1837. The opening of Lexington Avenue and the construction of Central Park in the 1850s also drove up the value of real estate on the Upper East Side.

In 1872, the city and the railroad initiated the Fourth Avenue Improvement Scheme to help alleviate some of the locomotive dirt and noise that was now rendering the avenue an undesirable place to live. The railroad — now the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad — was widened to four tracks and placed within a tunnel from 59th to 96th Street. Above 96th Street, open-cut stations were constructed, like the Harlem station at 124th-125th Street.

Park Avenue 59th Street 1876

The Fourth Avenue Improvement Scheme of 1872 helped to alleviate some of the dirt and noise by placing the railroad tracks within a tunnel that was partially enclosed to allow for the locomotive smoke and cinders to escape. In this circa 1876 illustration of Fourth Avenue and 59th Street, you can see 101 East 59th Street, where our feline protagonist made his home, on the right (surrounded by iron fencing). Notice how all of the buildings face the side streets. New York Public Library Digital Collection

The plan worked pretty well, however, and soon numerous tenements and row houses were built along Fourth Avenue from 42nd Street northward. Since a Fourth Avenue address was still not desirable for well-to-do folks, most of the residences on corner lots were constructed to face the side streets rather than the main avenue. (That all changed after 1886, when Fourth Avenue north of 42nd Street was renamed Park Avenue.)

It was in one of these corner residences that General Muff made his home.

Mary Louis Booth

Mary Louise Booth

General Muff and Miss Mary Louise Booth

General Muff has been described as “a real nobleman among cats.” It is said that the soft gray Maltese with white paws and breast was extraordinarily handsome, amiable, and uncommonly intelligent. He was also a “cat cousin” of the late John Wilkes Booth. Yes, that one.

Muff was the beloved pet of Mary Louise Booth, a prominent member of New York’s literary circle who was best known for being the founding editor of Harper’s Bazar (as it was spelled until 1929). Muff lived with Mary and her best childhood friend, Mrs. Anne (Allie) W. Wright, in a three-story brownstone at 101 East 59th Street, on the northeast corner of Park Avenue.

Harper's Bazar 1867

In 1867, Fletcher Harper, the editor of Harper’s Weekly, invited Mary to take charge of his new publication, Harper’s Bazar. Under her leadership for almost 17 years, the magazine was a great success, growing to a circulation of 80,000 in its first decade. Here is the cover from the first issue, November 2, 1867.

In the 1880s, Saturday nights at Mary Booth’s home were legendary among New York authors, musicians, artists, statesmen, and other likewise professionals. Described as “the nearest approach to the French salon possible in America,” Mary Booth’s weekly literary gatherings were always well attended despite the remote location on East 59th Street.

Sometimes Mary’s cousin Edwin Booth would attend these events — one story described him as “a sad, gloomy man” who would stand with folded arms in the corner and talk very little to the others attending the literary meetings.

The salons took place in Mary’s parlors, which were described in The Current in 1883 as “cheerful and light in color” and decorated with items from all over the world.

There were vases from Japan, old silver from Norway, unique trinkets from Mexico and the West Indies, and even a collection of real strands of hair from the heads of Shelley, Keats, and Byron.

The pictures on her walls were all gifts from famous friends, including authors Mary Mapes Dodge and Sara Jane Lippincott, editor Whitelaw Reid, and poet Richard Watson Gilder.

Mary Louise Booth

“Tall and with much majesty of demeanor, she moved among them like a queen; her gray hair, rolled back over a cushion, becoming her as a crown would have done, her dark-brown eyes, the rose tint on her dimpled cheek, and her beaming smile, all made her beautiful; and the ready bon mot, the witty and good-natured turn upon her tongue, made her charming.” — Harriet Spofford, A Little Book of Friends

Muff always figured prominently at the Saturday evening salons, donning his elaborate and expensive lace collar made in the Yucatan (a gift from writer and expeditionary photographer Madame Alice Dixon le Plongeon), and taking full responsibility for entertaining all the guests.

No Saturday evening at Miss Booth’s would be complete without his offering of a mouse during the reception in the drawing room.

Muff rarely spent much time outdoors – he was terrified of the feral cats in the backyard – but if a window was left open, he wouldn’t hesitate to take a quick romp among the backyards of 59th Street and put his superb mousing skills to work.

Inside the brownstone, he shared his little world with two canaries – Fluff and Allegretto – several red birds and mocking birds, and a little gray cat named Vashti. The cats and birds spent many hours together in Mary’s library on the second floor, which faced the backyard.

[Park Avenue from 55th to 59th Street.]

In this circa 1871 photo, you can still see some wooden shanties and rocky outcrops at the intersection of 55th Street and Fourth Avenue. Mary Booth’s brownstone is visible at the top left of the photo. You can also see the Church of the Advent, erected in 1870 at 123 East 57th Street (white roof, in the right center). Museum of the City of New York Collections

Author Harriet Elizabeth Prescott Spofford, a dear friend of Mary’s, once wrote of Muff’s relationship with Vashti:

“His latter days were rendered miserable by a little silky, gray creature, an Angora named Vashti, who was a spark of the fire of the lower regions wrapped round in long silky fur, and who never let him alone one moment: who was full of tail-lashings and racings and leapings and fury, and of the most demonstrative love for her mistress. Once I made them collars with breastplates of tiny dangling bells, nine or ten; it excited them nearly to madness, and they flew up and down stairs like unchained lightning till the trinkets were taken off.”

From Millville to Brooklyn

Booth Kinney House

Mary Booth was born in this small wood-shingled Cape house in Millville, New York, in 1831. This home is still standing, and has undergone a complete restoration courtesy of the Yaphank Historical Society and Suffolk County.

Mary Louise Brown was born on April 19, 1831, in Millville (present-day Yaphank), a small hamlet in the town of Brookhaven, New York. Her father, William Chatfield Booth, had a small woolen mill and dye house, and also taught school in the winter months.

William was a descendant of Ensign John Booth, who, in 1652, reportedly purchased Shelter Island off the coast of Long Island from the Manhansett tribe for 100 yards of calico. Her mother, Nancy Monswell, was also a teacher.

Sometime around 1845, when Mary was 14, the Booth family moved to Brooklyn. There, her father opened the very first school in Williamsburg (possibly Primary School 1, which was on North 7th Street between present-day Berry Street and Bedford Avenue). Mary taught at the school for two years, but due to health issues, she stopped teaching at age 16 and devoted herself to literature.

1859 History of the City of New York, Mary Louise Booth

Although renowned for her translation work in earlier years — primarily of contemporary French works about the American Civil War — Mary Booth’s greatest achievement was her 1859 History of the City of New York, the first comprehensive study of the city in the 19th century.

In 1849, Mary moved to a small boarding house in Manhattan. Before taking the helm of Harper’s Bazar in 1867, she worked as a vest maker, contributed to various journals, worked as a space-rate reporter for The New York Times, and was quite active in promoting women’s rights, working alongside Susan B. Anthony and other leaders in the suffrage movement.

Mary died in her home on March 5, 1899, and was buried in the family plot in Cypress Hills Cemetery, Brooklyn. Muff died very soon thereafter. Vashti, who was also very much admired by Mary’s literary friends, was given to Miss Juliet Corson, a leader in cookery education and superintendent of the New York School of Cookery, which she founded in 1876.

“No sweeter or lovlier woman ever moved in New York literary circles.” — The Philadelphia Times, March 24, 1889.

The Booth Brownstone at 101 East 59th Street

This concludes the story of Muff, but if you enjoy history, you may want to read about the fascinating history behind the intersection of 59th Street and Park Avenue, of which Muff and Mary Booth played only a very small part.

In May 1858, real estate broker A.J. Bleecker sold a block of parcels owned by Isaac Adriance and bounded by Third and Fourth Avenue. J.C. Henderson purchased quite a few of these lots, including the lots at the intersection of 59th and Fourth Avenue. The lots remained undeveloped for about 12 years, allowing numerous squatters to take advantage of the land and establish wooden shanties there.

On May 3, 1869, at about midnight, a Croton water main on Fourth Avenue and 59th Street suddenly burst, creating a large explosion. The rushing water tore up the railroad tracks and washed away about 20 feet of 59th Street, which at the time was about 15 feet above ground level. All of the wooden shanties in the sunken lots were demolished, but miraculously, no lives were lost.

Croton water main

The 48-inch Croton water main under Fourth Avenue – like these pictured nearby in Central Park in 1890 — burst open at 59th Street around midnight on May 3, 1869, creating a huge explosion and putting many people’s lives at risk. Museum of the City of New York Collections

According to news reports, a shanty on the southeastern corner of Fourth and 59th was occupied by a woman and her child who had to be lifted to the roof and rescued. Jerry Curtin, a blind man, lost everything in the disaster. As the water rushed up to his chin, it was all he could do to get out of the shanty with his wife.

By the time the Croton Aqueduct Department shut the water off, it had risen to 25 feet, covering the roofs of the shanties and turning the lots into lakes. About 25 families were left homeless, all their worldly possessions scattered along the flooded streets.

Two years later, when the 1871 photo (above) of Fourth Avenue was taken, only a few shanties remained south of 59th Street. Numerous brand-new brownstones now stood where the water main explosion had taken place.

Overin's Stables, New York City

Sometime around 1891, Mary Booth’s brownstone was demolished and replaced by a five-story, 75 x 100 foot brick building occupied by Henry Clay Overin’s Market Boarding and Livery Stables. The new address for this building was 501-505 Park Avenue. (This photo is of Overin’s other stables in a similar building at 600-610 Seventh Avenue.)

In March 1874, John Fettretch placed a classified ad for the 3-story brownstone at 101 East 59th Street. Rent was $1,700 a year or $2,000 with gas fixtures, window shades and carpets. In July 1874, Patrick Donahoe was listed as a resident, and in 1882, Mr. Stephen D. Caldwell was living at the home. Mary Booth purchased the building sometime around 1883.

In 1891, a year after Mary’s companion, Anne Wright, died, the Booth brownstone was demolished and replaced with a five-story brick stable owned by Henry Clay Overin. The stables were one of the most popular in the city until Overin’s death in 1897.

With the advent of the motorized vehicle, the stables were converted and renamed the Mineola Garage. Several deaths are associated with this garage, including that of two-year-old Catherine Clancy, who fell four floors to the basement in a large automobile elevator shaft in 1915, and Mrs. Rose Tighe of 512 West 158th Street, who was killed in 1939 when employee Raymond Kahn lost control and drove a vehicle through a fifth-floor wall, sending an avalanche of bricks to the street below.

Mineola Garage on Park Avenue and 59th

In this circa 1917 photo of the Mineola Garage on Park Avenue and 59th Street, you can see a few surviving brownstones at Nos. 105-109 East 59th Street. Mary’s brownstone would have been identical to these before their lower floors were renovated for retail space. Museum of the City of New York Collections

In 1923, Hester A. Booth of Yonkers sold the Mineola Garage and land lease to Frederick Brown. He also purchased 105 East 59th Street from Georgina McGinley and the two other brownstones shown in the photo above.

505 Park Avenue

In 1948, a 21-story structure was built at 505 Park Avenue for the Arabian American Oil Company. The building also housed the Hudson Pulp and Paper Corporation, National Association of Cost Accountants, and Lever Bros. A Howard Johnsons restaurant was on the ground level.

In 1924, Frederick Brown sold his property to Arthur Brisbane and M.L. Annenberg. The land was sold one last time in 1946 to Percy and Harold Uris, who put up a modern 21-story office building. According to Property Shark, in 2015 this building had a value of $78,095,000.

Should you have the chance to walk by 505 Park Avenue — or maybe attend a wine tasting there at Sherry-Lehmann — close your eyes and picture a handsome gray cat wearing a lace collar sitting in the window.


This is one of my longer stories — which is why it took me so long to post — but it’s chock full of New York City history.

Belgium Sheepdogs from Ghent Kennels

In March 1908, NYPD Detective Henry G. Firneisen purchased six Belgian sheepdogs from the Ghent Kennels in Belgium. One dog reportedly died enroute to America and was replaced with an Airedale terrier. AKC Gazette, 1928.

In July 2013, I wrote about the police dogs of Parkville Brooklyn, who came to America in 1907 and were the first canine police squad in New York City. Those dogs were so successful in stopping crime in the rural areas of Brooklyn that the city decided to get a few more in 1908.

A jewel heist involving a New York socialite and a good butler gone bad created the perfect opportunity to add a few more K9 cops to the New York City police force.

The $8,000 Jewel Theft

On Sunday, March 8, 1908, David Percy Morgan sent a messenger boy to the police headquarters building at 300 Mulberry Street to report that $8,000 worth of diamonds and jewelry, including heirlooms, had been stolen from an open safe belonging to his mother, Carolyn Fellowes Morgan.

Mrs. Morgan was the widow of David Pierce Morgan, a Wall Street banker and distant relative of J.P Morgan (both men were descendants of brothers Miles and James Morgan, who came to America in 1636). She had married David Morgan in 1858 at the age of 26 and had seven children: Caroline, William, Clara, David, Alice, Lewis, and James.

American Sugar Refining Company

Before losing his wife and his fortune, David P. Morgan was an assistant treasurer for the American Sugar Refining Company – aka, the Sugar Trust and Domino Sugar. Incorporated in New Jersey in 1891, the ASR was the largest American business unit in the sugar refining industry in the early 1900s. It operated one of the world’s largest sugar refineries in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, pictured here in 1893.

At the time of the theft, David P. Morgan was living with his mother in her four-story-with-basement brownstone at 70 Park Avenue in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan (she also had a home in Washington, D.C.).

A former assistant treasurer for the American Sugar Refining Company, David had recently been divorced from his wife, Edith Parsons. Two months before the burglary, he also lost his entire fortune in the stock market.

68-70 Park Avenue

In this circa 1917 photo, Nos. 68 and 70 Park Avenue are the brownstones in the center (mansard roofs), at the corner of Park and 38th Street. The first floor of No. 68 — the Gould residence — appears to be boarded up. Museum of the City of New York Collections

Mrs. Morgan occupied a room on the second floor of the townhouse, where she kept her jewels in a small safe. Sometime around 6 p.m. that day, she discovered that several items, including a Louis XVI diamond tiara, diamond collaret, diamond brooch, three gold bangles, diamond heart-shaped locket, pearl necklace, diamond earrings, diamond sunburst, and several less valuable pieces were missing from the safe.

David tried to call the police by phone, but the telephone wires had been disconnected. So he called for a messenger boy to deliver a note to police.

Detectives William Browne and Henry G. Firneisen responded to the residence.

The Butler Did It

How many times do you get to say “the butler did it” and actually mean it?

When the detectives arrived, they concluded that it was an inside job. They took a census of the servants and discovered that the second butler, Claude J. Heritier, was missing in action.

The Morgans told police that they had last seen him about 4 p.m. on the second floor. They also said Heritier had been very faithful since joining the family in November 1906, and that he had previously worked at the Whippany Club in Morristown, N.J.

General Slocum

On June 15, 1904, Henry Firneisen’s wife, Emma Christina, daughter Marie Theresa, and sons Henry and William, were aboard the General Slocum when it caught fire and sank in the East River, killing an estimated 1,021 of the 1,342 people on board. The Firneisens, who lived at 40 East Seventh Street, were able to tread water until they were rescued by Engineer Patrick J. Lynch of Engine Co. 60. Henry Firneisen presented Lynch with an inscribed gold chain and watch. Lynch also received the Congressional Medal of Honor for saving 45 lives that day.

While searching the home for clues, detectives Browne and Firneisen discovered a checkerboard game with Heretier’s name and the following address scribbled on the back of the board: 70 Portsmouth Square, London. They immediately cabled Heretier’s description and address to Scotland Yard in London.

Now it turns out that Claude Heritier (alias Lester Graham) had an accomplice by the name of William O’ Connell (aka William Wilson), a former ship steward. Following the burglary, the two men occupied a room that they rented just two blocks from the Morgan residence. For two weeks, they hid out there and took turns watching the detectives enter and leave the Morgan house.

During this time, the men sold a valuable pair of earrings in a saloon. They also discovered that two of the necklaces were imitation pearls.

Old Madison Avenue Bridge

The jewel thieves tossed some of Mrs. Morgan’s costume jewelry from the old bridge that connected Madison Avenue in Manhattan to 138th Street in the Bronx. This bridge was designed by architect Alfred Pancoast Boller and opened in 1884 at a cost of $509,106. It was later replaced by the much larger Madison Avenue Bridge, a four-lane swing bridge that cost $1.1 million when it opened in 1910.

Cash in hand, they headed up to the Bronx and tossed the costume jewelry into the Harlem River from the bridge at 138th Street. Then they made their way to Philadelphia, where they boarded the Red Star Line steamer Marquette for Antwerp, Belgium. In Antwerp, Heritier sold about nine loose diamonds worth about $300 to a dealer.

The Fugitives Are Captured

On April 20, Heritier was arrested in London by Scotland Yard and remanded to the Marylebone Police Court. He was carrying 16 small diamonds valued at $400 when he was captured, but he couldn’t give police a good reason for having them.

A week later, on April 27, Scotland Yard recovered two necklaces in Heritier’s lodgings. He confessed to the crime and also named William O’Connell, who had been arrested in Liverpool on April 25 when he was found with 14 loose diamonds in his pockets. The two men were held in London to await extradition papers from New York.

Ghent kennels training sheepdogs

The sheepdogs were thoroughly trained in catching vagrants and escaping marauders at the kennels in Ghent. It was Firneisen’s job to teach the dogs all the commands in English.

Following the arrests, detectives Firneisen and Browne – who had both traveled to London at the end of May to make extradition arrangements – separated to do some other police work in Europe. While Browne went to Paris, Firneisen set out for Antwerp to find the loose diamonds — and a few good police sheepdogs from the famous kennels at Ghent.

As Firneisen told the New York press:
“The dogs I intend to purchase are of the same breed and in fact come from the same kennels as those that have proved so valuable to the Belgium police, who were the first to train dogs to detect crime. Some of them are already trained, but I shall spend the time occupied in the voyage to New York two weeks hence in getting acquainted with them and teaching them English.”

On June 7, Detective Firneisen, Detective Browne, Claude Heritier, William O’Connell, and six sheepdogs boarded the Red Star Line SS Zeeland in Antwerp. A week later, when the ship was within 20 miles of the Sandy Hook lightship in the Ambrose Channel, many passengers were startled to see Detective Browne put handcuffs on Claude and William. Apparently, the men had been allow to mingle freely with the passengers on the trip over (I wonder if they picked anyone’s pockets?).

Red Star Line SS Zeeland

The detectives returned to New York City aboard the Red Star Line SS Zeeland on June 15, 1908, with two fugitives and five police dogs in tow (one dog died in transit).

The Morgan Home at 70 Park Avenue

The Morgan townhouse on the northwest corner of Park Avenue and 38th Street was in the neighborhood known as Murray Hill, which takes its name from the eighteenth-century country estate and farm of Quaker shipping merchant Robert Murray.

To be exact, it was located on what was the northernmost boundary of Murray’s 29-acre wedge-shaped parcel, which extended from about today’s 33rd Street to 38th Street between the old Eastern Post Road (aka Boston Post Road) near present-day Lexington Avenue and the old Middle Road (near today’s Madison Avenue).

John Murray farm boundary, 1867

In this 1867 Matthew Dripps map, you can see the old boundary lines of the Murray farm between Middle Road and Eastern Post Road. The three Phelps family mansions, erected in the 1850s on the east side of Madison Avenue between 36th and 37th streets, are visible to the left.

The Murray farm was located on a high point of Manhattan that was once wilderness and called Inclenbergh in the 1700s. Robert and his wife, Mary Lindley Murray, leased the common lands from the city in the 1750s (the city leased land to meet the expenses of building the new City Hall on Wall Street), and in 1760 they erected a mansion that they named Belmont on the crest of the hill at what is now the intersection of Park Avenue and East 36th – 37th Street.

Robert and Mary Murray house, pre-1834.

Surrounded by wide lawns and extensive gardens, and approached by a tree-lined avenue from the Eastern Post Road, the Murray’s Colonial-style home had a magnificent view of Kips Bay and the East River. When the New York City street grid was superimposed over the Murray farm in 1811, the house was located within Fourth Avenue (now Park Avenue). However, the street grid remained solely on paper, and the land remained a farm until the house burned down in 1834.

In addition to the large house, the property featured two barns, a coach house, a large garden, and meadows for cultivating hay. The Murrays also owned a large cornfield that was reportedly located on the site of today’s Grand Central Station. During the Revolutionary War, British soldiers marched through these fields.

Following Robert Murray’s death in 1786, the farm went to his daughter Susannah, the wife of Captain Gilbert Colden Willett. Willett had a business with Robert’s brother, John Murray, and when that failed in 1800, Susannah and Gilbert passed the lease to John. John Murray eventually purchased the property from the city for $62,000 in 1806.

After John Murray’s death in 1808, his children Mary and Hannah Lindley Murray, Susan Ogden (wife of William Ogden), and John R. Murray occupied the house. Several attempts were made to rent or sell the property in 1812 and 1813, but I do not know the outcome of these early efforts.

Mrs. Robert Murray distracts British troops

George Washington and British Commander William Howe reportedly spent some time at the Murray home during the Revolutionary War in September 1776. In fact, the Murrays played a key role in the war by hosting a “party” at their home on September 15 of that year, in which they served good food and wine to the British soldiers in order to distract them while the New York troops under the command of Major General Israel Putnam were making their escape up to Harlem Heights. NYPL Digital Collections

In 1835, the Murray heirs imposed a series of restrictive covenants on some land that they sold to the Ministers, Elders, and Deacons of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of the City of New York on the north side of East 38th Street. The church had previously purchased the northern half of the block from the James Quackinbush estate, and it needed the Murrays’ land in order to divide the block into standard 25 x lOO foot building lots. No. 70 Park Avenue was erected on one of these lots.

The covenants restricted development to “brick or stone dwelling houses of at least three stories.” Exceptions could be made for private stables, carriage houses, and churches, but such establishments as smith shops, breweries, and places for the exhibition of wild animals were expressly forbidden.

Old Murray Hill houses, Lexington and 37th Street. 1859

Although the Murray heirs started to sell their farm land in the 1830s, the development of Murray Hill did not begin in earnest until the 1850s. Here are a few of the first Murray Hill stone houses constructed on Lexington and 37th Street, circa 1859. Museum of the City of New York Collections

On June 11, 1835, James Bleecker & Sons auctioned off the Murray Hill Estate – about 400 lots in all. Most of the buyers were lawyers and businessmen who could afford to hold the property for a few years as an investment until the residential district expanded northward into Murray Hill.

Development first took off in the early 1850s at the western edge of the former farm, when three members of the Phelps family erected mansions on Madison Avenue between East 36th and 37th streets. Thirty-three feet wide and seventy-three feet deep, the houses were “furnished in elegant and luxurious style” and featured elaborate gardens and private stables.

Union Club League clubhouse

In 1931, the Union League Club’s fourth clubhouse was erected on land owned by J.P. Morgan — and once occupied by the Robert Morgan farm and homestead. Museum of the City of New York Collections

The northern-most Phelps mansion was later home to J.P. Morgan, Jr., and today is part of the Morgan Library & Museum. In 1926, J.P. Morgan also purchased the property upon which the old Murray homestead once stood. Four townhouses on the property were torn down and replaced with the elaborate clubhouse for the Union League Club, of which he was a member.

As for 70 Park Avenue, the earliest record goes back to 1886, when the townhouse was occupied by John T. Farish, a Virginian who made his wealth in tobacco. The Farish estate sold it to Dr. John C. Barron in 1895, who in turn sold it to Oliver Harriman in 1901 for $31,500.

Carolyn F. Morgan purchased 70 Park Avenue in November 1905 and installed an elevator in 1909. In 1912, two years before her death, her son William Fellowes Morgan moved into the home.

In 1925, Nos. 70 and 68 were acquired from William Morgan and the late Charles A. Gould and demolished to make room for a 15-story apartment hotel. Today this is a boutique Kimpton Hotel called 70 Park Avenue. It happens to be a pet-friendly hotel that accepts “any number of pets without size or weight restrictions and for no extra charge or deposit.” You just gotta love that!

Park Avenue and 38th Street

In this circa 1926 photo, the new 15-story apartment hotel at 68-70 Park Avenue is visible at left. Museum of the City of New York Collections

And speaking of dogs, on September 6, 1908, The New York Times reported on the new police dogs’ progress. All of the dogs were in active service in Flatbush, and according to Fourth Deputy Police Commissioner Arthur Woods, the dogs had made good.

“Why, let me tell you something,” Woods told a reporter. “Burglars are so rare in Flatbush now that we have to put fake burglars on the job to keep the dogs in practice. Why, the burglars fear those police dogs a lot more than they fear the cops.”

The dogs continued to make the headlines in Flatbush and Parkville, Brooklyn, until 1951, when the caretaker of the dogs’ kennel at 2801 Brighton Third Street (present-day mounted police Troop E stable) retired and the canine unit was dissolved on the “grounds of obsoleteness.”

Irene Castle and Zowie

Irene Castle with Zowie in Paris, 1912. Although Zowie has often been referred to as a small terrier or Griffon, one news article claimed she was an English bulldog. In this picture, she looks more like part-bulldog to me.

“Her death last year was the hardest to bear of any – until his came. Somehow I like to think that her little soul was waiting to greet his, so that he mightn’t feel strange or alone in the great world above us. I can see her jumping and running for joy and licking his hand to show she has not forgotten, and crying – just a little—to find I had not come too.”—Irene Castle shares memories of Zowie in her book “My Husband,” 1919

You’ve no doubt heard of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This is a story about a great dance team that rose to fame when Fred and Ginger were just children.

Vernon and Irene Castle

In the early 1900s, Vernon and Irene Castle were two of America’s favorite stars. The dances they created, like the Castle Walk and Hesitation Waltz, were all the rage around the world. Irene and Vernon were international symbols of youth and beauty, and millions of people tried to dance and dress and style their hair just like them.

The story of Irene and Vernon Castle

The Castle story is a wonderful love story for all time, full of romance, adventure, struggles, fame, and tragedy. But my favorite part of their story is how they supposedly met in 1909.

According to one story told in the Tarrytown Daily News and several other upstate New York papers, Vernon and Irene were both swimming in the Long Island Sound at the New Rochelle Yacht Club in the summer of 1909 when a little English bulldog swam beyond her limit and began to flounder.

Irene Foote Castle

The Foote family, around 1899. Irene spent her childhood surrounded by many animals, including her father’s horses and dogs.

Irene and Vernon both came to her rescue and thus became acquainted. They named the dog Zowie after Zowie, the Monarch of Mystery, which was a role Vernon Castle (his stage name) played in The Hen-Pecks at the Broadway Theatre. (Other reports claim that Irene and Vernon received the dog as a gift from Irene’s father after they married, which makes more sense when you look at the timeline. The Hen-Pecks first opened in February 1911, so they couldn’t have named the dog after Zowie the Monarch of Mystery in 1909. But of course, I prefer the rescue tale.)

Pryer Terrace, New Rochelle, Foote residence

In 1906, the Footes sold their large home at 304 North Avenue (now the site of the New Rochelle Transit Center) to the developers of Halcyon Park. They moved to a larger house a few blocks away on Pryer Terrace across from the Beechmont Oval Park, where Dr. Foote erected a large red barn for his horses and kennels for his dogs. Irene and Vernon were married in this home, shown here, in 1911.

Born in 1893 in New Rochelle, New York, Irene was the daughter of Dr. Hubert Townsend Foote and Annie Elroy Thomas Foote. She lived in New Rochelle until 1910, when she moved in with her older sister, Elroy, on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan to be closer to her new beau, Vernon William Blythe. Vernon proposed to her on Christmas Day, 1910, and they married on May 28, 1911, at the Foote residence in New Rochelle.

In 1912, the Castles traveled to Paris, where Vernon was appearing in a French musical revue. Their stay in Paris was short lived, though, as Irene had to return to America in May 1912 to attend her father’s funeral.

Edward Bliss Foote

Irene’s grandfather, Edward Bliss Foote, was a medical doctor who shared an office with Dr. Hubert Foote at 120 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. A pioneer in the sexual revolution, Edward Foote called for sexual freedom and offered women birth control advice in the 1860s. He also invented several female birth control devices, such as the womb veil (a precursor to the diaphragm). Edward was once declared a “danger to the nation” by conservative postal inspector Anthony Comstock.

Accompanied by Zowie, Irene spent a lot of time on the ship looking out for icebergs and staying on deck, determined to get in a lifeboat if necessary (the Titanic had gone down only a year earlier). “In the confusion of abandoning ship, they would think I was carrying a baby” she told the press. “A very ugly baby.”

A Castle Tour of New York City

During their brief marriage, Vernon and Irene spent most of their time between New York City and Long Island. They had a townhouse in the building previously occupied by Irene’s father and grandfather at 120 Lexington Avenue. They also purchased the J.R. Ely estate in Manhasset near the Long Island Sound. Here they had kennels and stables for their 24 dogs (including 12 police dogs), 5 horses, donkey, and numerous other animals.

Irene and Vernon never had children; however, they had lots of pets to keep them company, many of whom were performing animals that they rescued from the theater. In addition to Zowie, some of their favorite fur-babies included a German shepherd named Tell van Flugerard, a monkey named Rastas, and a dog named Punchinello. Many say that in addition to their dancing, it was their shared love of animals that kept them united.

Rossmore Hotel, Louis Martin Cafe, Broadway

When they returned to New York in 1912, Irene and Vernon Castle enjoyed success at Louis Martin’s Café between Broadway, 7th Avenue, 41st and 42nd streets. The building that housed the café was erected in 1873 as the Rossmore Hotel, seen here. In 1909, it was remodeled as the lavish Café de l’Opera and then in 1912, restaurateur Louis Martin renovated the building to house his new restaurant, the Café de Paris. Martin’s business failed in 1913 and the building was demolished by 1915 to make way for an 11-story office building. NYPL digital collections.

24-26 East 46th Street

On December 15, 1913, the Castles opened a dance hall called the Castle House at 24-26 East 46th Street, opposite the entrance to the Ritz-Carlton. This building had previously been occupied by Josefa Neilson Osborn’s dressmaking company (called Mrs. Osborn’s Company). Here, in the large ballrooms on the second floor, the Castles taught clients including Mrs. Stuyvessant Fish and Mrs. William Rockefeller all the new dances in between glasses of lemonade and tea. Museum of the City of New York Collections.

120-122 Lexington Avenue

Irene and Vernon Castle had a townhouse at 120 Lexington Avenue, left, which was previously the medical offices and laboratories of Irene’s father and grandfather, and also the meeting place for the New York City Women’s Suffrage League in the late 1890s. The couple also held title to the adjoining building at 122 Lexington.

Irene and Vernon Castle Estate, Manhasset

In the spring of 1914, they bought the James R. Ely estate on Manhasset Bay, Long Island, where they had kennels and stables for their 24 dogs and 5 horses.

Castles by the Sea, Long Beach, NY

In 1914, the Castles opened Castles by the Sea, a resort and dancing school at the former Danse de la Mer pavilion built by Senator William Reynolds on the Long Beach boardwalk, just east of the Hotel Nassau (today, the Ocean Club condominiums at 100 W. Broadway). The opening of the resort was featured in the 1915 silent film Whirl of Life, in which the Castles made their motion-picture debut. In later years the front of this building was extended and a theater and other stores were added. It burned down in the 1930s and today the site is occupied by the Allegria Hotel.

Irene and Vernon Castle

Irene and Vernon with their German shepherd Tell and Griffon Kiki on the porch of their Manhasset home, sometime around 1915.

Goodbye, Zowie and Vernon

Born in Norfolk, England, in 1887, Vernon was very concerned about the fate of his home country during World I. So he temporarily gave up dancing, enlisted in the British military, and joined the 84th Royal Flying Corps Squadron. He flew 300 combat missions, shot down two German planes, and was awarded the French Croix de Guerre (War Cross) for heroism.

In 1917, Vernon returned to the U.S. as part of a program established by General John J. “Blackjack” Pershing to train American and Canadian aviators at Benbrook Flying Field in Texas. That same year, the couple lost two beloved pets. On July 18, 1917, Punchinello, a small dog (probably a Griffon), was killed in a fall. A few weeks later, on August 2, Zowie passed away. Both dogs were buried in the Castle plot at Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in Westchester County.

Irene Castle plot Hartsdale Pet Cemetery

The Castle plot is one of the largest at Hartsdale Pet Cemetery. Seven of Irene’s pets were buried here, including Poudie, Rastas, Sweetie, Kiki, Punchinello, and Zowie, each beneath a headstone inscribed with their name, date of birth and death, and an epitaph. Zowie’s reads: To My Adored Zowie. I do not cringe from death so much, Since you are gone, my truest friend, Thy dear, dumb soul will wait for me. However long before the end.

On February 15, 1918, Vernon was killed during a training mission in Texas. According to news reports, Captain Castle had attempted to avert a collision with another plane by “zeeming up” 75 feet. At such a sharp angle, his engine died, causing the plane to turn on its side and plunge nose-first to the ground. Neither the cadet student nor Vernon’s monkey Jeffrey were injured in the crash.

Vernon Castle and Jeffrey

Vernon often flew with his pet monkey Jeffrey. While at the British front in Paris, he also reportedly opened a private American bar with the latest New York cocktails served by Jeffrey.

Vernon was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. For his memorial, Irene recreated a bronze sculpture of a tired ballet dancer titled End of the Day, which depicts a nude dancer coiled into a ball after an exhausting day of practice. A memorial for Vernon was erected in 1966 at the crash site in Texas near the corner of Vernon Castle Avenue and Cozby West.

Just six months after Vernon’s death, in August 1918, Irene was secretly married to U.S. Army Captain Robert E. Treman, reportedly a childhood friend. (Their public marriage took place on May 3, 1919.) She sold her property at 120 and 122 Lexington Avenue two months later, and the couple moved into their gift from Terman’s father — a large home called Greystone on Cayuga Heights Road in Ithaca.

Four years later, on July 24, 1923, the couple got a divorce in Paris on the ground that “he refused to observe the marital relations.” (In the early 1900s, many couples established legal domicile in France in order to more easily obtain a divorce in the French courts.) The couple’s beautiful home overlooking Cayuga Lake was purchased for $67,000 by the Sigma Chi Alumni Association at Cornell University in 1925. Today the home is the chapter house of the Alpha Phi Chapter of Sigma Chi Fraternity.

Irene Castle

Following her marriage to Frederic McLaughlin, Irene hung up her stage hat and gave marriage and motherhood a try. On January 4, 1925, she gave birth to a 7-pound baby girl, Barbara Irene. On July 18, 1929, she gave birth to a son, William Foote. Although the press surmised that motherhood would put an end to her fondness for animals, that was simply not the case.

Not unlike Mable Lorraine Miller, the femme fatale in my last post who had five husbands, Irene didn’t waste any time making her next conquest. Just four months after her divorce to Captain Treman, she married Major Frederic McLaughlin, a divorced sportsman from Chicago who was a millionaire coffee merchant and owner of the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team.

Irene Caslte and dogs

Irene Castle was an avid campaigner for animal rights for much of her lifetime. In 1927, she founded Orphans of the Storm, an animal shelter for dogs in Deerfield, Illinois. Each year, she hosted “pooch balls” to raise money for the shelter. Sadly, she lost 90 of the 125 dogs sheltered there in February 1930, when a suspicious fire destroyed the facilities. The shelter was rebuilt, and is still in operation today.

In September 1937, Irene sued her third husband for divorce (I’m beginning to think that divorce was very popular in the 1920s and 1930s). She withdrew the suit two years later, but the couple continued to live apart. Frederic died in December 1944, and Irene was married one more time in 1946 to George Enzinger, a divorced Chicago advertising executive.

Irene Foote Castle Treman McLaughlin Enzinger died at the age of 75 on January 25, 1969, in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Just five years earlier, while in New York to be the guest of honor at America’s Ball of the Year, Irene told a reporter that when she died, she wanted her gravestone to say “humanitarian” rather than “dancer.” She said she only danced for fun and money, but “Orphans of the Storm comes from my heart. It’s more important.”

The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle

In 1939, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers played Vernon and Irene Castle in The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. The RKO radio picture was based on “My Husband” and “My Memories of Vernon Castle,” both written by Irene. The movie even featured a dog named Zowie, albeit, this dog does not look like a bulldog.