Archive for February, 2016


Scenes from the 1895 National Cat Show at Madison Square Garden II. One of the cats that caused the biggest stir at this show was Nicodemus, owned by New York prankster Brian G. Hughes.

Manager Bunnell stood in the center of his museum on Broadway, his hands in his hair, utterly perplexed… He was surrounded by cats in cages, cats in wooden boxes, cats in band-boxes, cats in bags, half of them yelling, spitting, and scratching, as mad as cats can be in uncomfortable quarters and in a strange place. A deep scratch on his nose… told how inexperienced he was in the ways of cats.– The New York Times, March 6, 1881

Although the first National Cat Show at Madison Square Garden II in May 1895 is often cited as the first cat show in America, there were actually quite a few cat shows in New York City and other American cities before this “official cat show” took place at the Garden.


For a brief time, George Bunnell operated his museum at the Old London Street Exhibition, which occupied the old Church of the Messiah at 728-730 Broadway.  

In fact, 18 years earlier, in 1877, a feline exhibition called the Cat Congress took place at George B. Bunnell’s New American Museum on the Bowery (not to be confused with P.T. Barnum’s old American Museum on Broadway, which burned down in 1865).

The impromptu cat show also took place at Bunnell’s Museum in 1881 and 1882, when his dime museum was located on the northwest corner of Broadway and 9th Street.

To kick off the 1881 Cat Congress, proprietor George B. Bunnell announced that he would offer a $10 prize for the best short essay on cats. The response was overwhelming: Within days, his office floor was covered with 557 funny, serious, and poetic essays about cats.


Here is a portion of Walter C. Quevedo’s clever winning cat essay, which he attached to a small wooden block called a “cat,” which was  used in a child’s game called tipcap.

The briefest of the entries came from a man who said he hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in a long time: “Damn all cats anyway,” was all he wrote. The winning essay was written by New York World journalist Walter C. Quevedo of 127 Eleventh Street, Brooklyn, who attached his page-long essay to a little wooden “tipcat” game piece.

The Featured Felines of the Cat Congress

Some of the cats are remarkable for their size, color, stripes, and weight. By far the greater number possess all the characteristics of the back-fence tenors.–NYT, March 8, 1881

One of the felines featured at George Bunnell’s Cat Congress was a 13-year-old Tom cat named Humpty Dumpty. According to The New York Times, Humpty had previously been owned by the late George L. Fox, an American actor and comedian who had created a comical clown character called Humpty Dumpty in 1867.

The cat had reportedly won a life-saving medal for saving his owner’s life. As the story goes, Humpty Dumpty jumped up on George’s bed and started scratching his face to awake him one night after his house had caught fire. George had trained Humpty to do several tricks, and the senior cat was still able to perform a few of them in his old age.


Known as America’s first white-face clown, George Washington Lafayette Fox was famous for his clown character, Humpty Dumpty. Fox performed as Humpty Dumpty in over 1,200 shows over 10 years. He died at the age of 52 in 1877 — some reports state he lost his mind and suffered from paralysis as a result of lead poisoning from the white makeup he used every day on his face.

Another favorite at the show was a cat named General Washington. As reported, “General Washington was a black and white gentleman cat, with an intellectual breadth of forehead and a frank open face. His great-grandfather is alleged to have witnessed the surrender of Cornwallis some years ago. There may be some mistake about his ancestry, but it will not be denied that he himself is a handsome specimen.”

George Bunnell’s New American Museum

We first met dime museum proprietor George Bunnell in my post about a wolf that escaped on the Bowery in 1891. A protege of P. T. Barnum, George Boardman Bunnell played a large role in the development of the American dime museum after the circus man got out of the museum business. (It was Bunnell who first had the idea to reduce admission from a quarter to a dime.)

In 1876, George Bunnell purchased the collection of George Wood’s Museum and Metropolitan Theatre at 1221 Broadway, and opened his own New American Museum at 103-105 Bowery.

Three years later, he secured a lease for a brand-new four-story museum/music hall and lodging house at 298 Bowery. As with many theaters and museums of that era, Bunnell’s museum caught fire in June 1879, forcing him to find another location.

298 Bowery

Despite a fire that destroyed Bunnell’s museum in 1879, No. 298 Bowery (white building, missing cornice), built in 1878, is still standing. The building was once identical to its neighbors to the right at Nos. 300 and 302, but time and use has taken a toll on the old building.

In 1880, George signed a 10-year lease  at 771 Broadway, a four-story brick building owned by the Felix Effray estate. This building had previously been home to Effray’s French chocolate shop and L. Leroy’s drug store (1850s),  and Wilson & Greig’s clothing and dry goods store (1860s-70s). It was here the Cat Congress of 1881 and 1882 took place.

Although the cat shows, dog shows, bird shows, and other events that took place at the New American Museum were quite successful, George Bunnell’s run at 771 Broadway didn’t last long. In 1883, the Sailor’s Snug Harbor Corporation, which owned much of the surrounding property, purchased the building from the Effray estate and cancelled Bunnell’s lease in order to replace the dime museum with shops.


For about two years, George B. Bunnell’s New American Museum occupied the four-story building at left. In October 1897, two men were killed in a fire at No. 773, to the right. Nos. 771 and 775 were heavily damaged by smoke and water. 

Bunnell headed north and established a museum in Buffalo, New York. After this building was destroyed in a large deadly fire in March 1887, he took his museum to New Haven, Connecticut, which is where he stayed until his death on May 3, 1911.

The Randall House at 63 E. 9th Street

In 1955, a new 14-story apartment building called the Randall House was constructed on the northwest corner of Broadway and 9th Street, on the very spot where George Bunnell had his dime museum. This large apartment house fronts 9th Street, hence the address.

The Randall House is named for Captain Robert Richard Randall, a former sea captain who owned most of the land bounded by 9th Street, Waverly Place, 5th Avenue, and the Bowery Lane (4th Avenue)

Born in New Jersey in 1790, Robert Richard Randall inherited his father’s vast estate when the elder Tom Randall died in 1790. He used some of his inheritance to purchase the former Andrew Elliot 21-acre estate in the then-rural Greenwich Village for a sum of 5,000 pounds.

The “recent” history of this land goes back to 1766, which is when Andrew Elliot (acting colonial governor of the province of New York in 1780) purchased 13 acres extending from the Bowery westward to the present Sixth Avenue. Over the next few years he acquired eight more acres, on which he established an estate he called Minto, in honor of his father, Sir Gilbert Elliott, who was 2nd Baronet of Minto, a village in Scotland.


The Andrew Elliott estate is shown on this 1776 map created by Lt. Bernard Ratzer during the Revolutionary War. It’s to the west of what was then the Bowery (the main roadway running through the middle of the map), just north of the Sand Hill and south of the road leading east to the Peter Stuyvesant farm (present-day 10th Street).

After Andrew Elliott fled the city during the British evacuation in 1783, the property came into the possession of Frederick Charles Hans Bruno Poelnitz (commonly called Baron Poelnitz). The Baron in turn sold the property to Captain Richard Randall.

Captain Randall had no heirs, so at the suggestion of his attorney, Alexander Hamilton, who reportedly drew up Randall’s will, the old sea captain requested that his home be used as a “snug harbor” — a marine hospital for “the purpose of maintaining aged, decrepit, and worn-out sailors.”  The land was good farm land, and Randall thought that the residents living at Snug Harbor would be able to grow grain and vegetables to help sustain themselves.


The Washington Mews homes and stables, on the southern edge of Randall’s 21-acre Greenwich Village estate, generated much income for the Sailors’ Snug Harbor trust fund.

Following Randall’s death in 1801, his will was immediately contested by relatives, and it was not until 1831 that the matter was settled by the Supreme Court of the United States. By this time, the property — which included the northern edge of Washington Square Park — had become so valuable that the Trustees of the Sailors’ Snug Harbor thought it better to subdivide the land into 253 lots and lease it out. The trustees used the money from the leases to purchase a 130-acre from on the north shore of Staten Island from Isaac Houseman for about $10,000.

The Sailors’ Snug Harbor opened on Staten Island on August 1, 1833, and continued to house aged sailors until the mid-1950s. Today, it’s part of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden. The Trust, considered to be one of the oldest secular philanthropies in the country, continues to assist mariners throughout the country.









Topsey, Turvey, Pickles, Grover, and Buffles were just some of the prized pets who made their home at the old Bergen Homestead on Flatbush Avenue.


One of the most widely known and attractive of the old fashioned revolutionary residences, in which the town of Flatbush abounds, is the old Bergen homestead on Flatbush Avenue, above Grant Street. This ancient pile has become a decided attraction to the sightseers who travel out that way, principally on Sundays, not on account of its historical importance, but because of the Whitby dog kennel, which has been located there for about two years. –Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 1893

In 1891, a once prominent lawyer from Rye, New York, leased the old John C. Bergen homestead at 972 Flatbush Avenue, just below Grant Street (today’s Snyder Avenue), at the corner of Avenue A (today’s Albemarle Road).



Hurlut Chapman grew up on his family’s 40-acre estate, Whitby, on the old Boston Post Road in Rye, New York. The 1854 Gothic Revival house, pictured here in 1887, was sold to New York grocer Joseph Park, the owner of Park and Tilford, in 1886. Today the Whitby Castle still stands on the grounds of the Rye Golf Club and is used as the clubhouse. 

Once a man of considerable wealth, Hurlbut Chapman (aka Hurlburt or Herbert), the son of stockbroker Henry P. Chapman and Rebecca Hurlbut, had reportedly lost his fortune and so decided to earn a living by operating a dog and cat kennel in Brooklyn. The kennels also served as a summer boarding house for the pets of the rich and famous.

During the next two years, the kennels became very well known to many Brooklynites who loved finely bred dogs and who thought of the kennels as one of the attractions of the town.

The first thing that attracted the attention of passersby was the number of handsome dogs which were tethered in the two-acre fenced-in yard. The tethering system was considered quite novel and practical: Long wires were stretched from tree to tree, upon which ran lose rings to which the dogs were fastened by chains ranging in length from 50 to 100 feet long.

Each wire was far enough apart to prevent the dogs from mingling or quarreling, allowing up to a dozen dogs to run in the yard at a time. (With over 30 dogs at the kennels, the dogs had to take turns on the tethers.)

Blocks of wood were strung from the wires about six feet from each tree in order to prevent the dogs from getting tangled around the trees.


In this 1890 E. Robinson map, you can see the J.C. Bergen homestead at the corner of Flatbush Avenue and  Avenue A. The Bergen estate opened Avenue A through their property in 1885, but in 1897, at the request of developers, the City of Brooklyn renamed it Albemarle Road after the London street (named for the Duke of Albemarle). Directly across the street is the old Teunis Bergen estate at 977 Flatbush Avenue, just south of Butler Road. In 1904, Butler Road was also renamed Albemarle Road, and in 1903, Grant Street (opened in 1876) was renamed Snyder Avenue after John Jacob Snyder, a  prominent hardware and furniture merchant in Flatbush.


Grover was trimmed to look like a lion, and could perform many tricks, like walking on his hind legs, bowing, and praying.

In the rear of the yard, to the left of the house, was a stable and barnyard where little pups were kept together until they could care for themselves. It was here that Hurlbut Chapman also kept any new dogs that he received until he could thoroughly examine them and test their disposition before allowing them to mingle with any other dogs.


One of Hurlbut Chapman’s most famous clients was James Gordon Bennett, Jr., publisher of the New York Herald. Gordon was an accomplished sportsman–he organized the first polo match and tennis match in the U.S.–and so probably had no time to devote to his poodles.

Special dogs, such as James and his son Grover — two black poodles owned by James Gordon Bennett, Jr. — were kept indoors, on the first floor of the old homestead.

The dogs, each valued at $500, were given to Gordon by a prominent New York woman, and were trained to do difficult and funny tricks. According to one article published in the New York World in 1893, the dogs were trained by Captain Farley of Hook & Ladder Company No. 15 at Old Slip and Pearl Street.

Prize-winning show dogs, including fox terriers Sparkle and Pickles, blue Skye Terrier Buffles, Irish setters Flashlight and Sunray, and Ruth, a smooth-coated St. Bernard that was reportedly as large as a cow, were also kept indoors. They had full run of the house, and were often caught napping on the couches.

Hurlbut, with some assistance from his brother William and a female cousin, also bred Angora cats. It was said that he had five of the most handsome Angora cats in the country: Turvy (the sole Tom cat, who took a prize at the first National Cat Show in 1895), Fluff and Topsy (who also took a prize at the cat show), Puff, and Pansy. The cats had their own cages on the front porch; they also spent time indoors in the drawing room, which took up half of the homestead’s lower floor and featured a piano that the cats liked to play on. Several litters of Angora kittens occupied a room on the upper floor.

On June 25, 1893, the New York World reported that Hurlbut had a group portrait taken of all his dogs and cats at the kennels. How I’d love to find this photo!

The John C. Bergen Homestead


The oldest house in Flatbush is the Bergen homestead, built by Dominie Freeman, who was mainly responsible for the spiritual welfare of early Flatbushers. Generous in its proportions, faces full upon the main thoroughfare. Original side shingles remain intact; heavy wooden shutters on the second floor had been replaced by modern window blinds. A simple porch supported by 4 plain columns, and a still more simpler door, with brass knocker and long panels, attract the attention of the most unlearned wayfarer. Many generations of Bergens have stepped out into the world from this same plain door that stares at the passing trolley-cars, and more than one romance has woven its magic charm around the long, substantial pile.—The Book of a Hundred Houses, 1902

Built sometime around 1735, the old homestead — sometimes called the Freeman homestead — was home to Dominie Bernadus Freeman, a native of Holland who served as pastor of the Reformed Dutch Church in Flatbush (aka Midwout, or the middle woods) from 1705 to 1741. Back then, Flatbush Avenue was known as Main Street, which previously was an old Native American trail that led from the Jamaica Bay to the East River.

The home was constructed of wood and featured low ceilings with heavy wooden crossbeams. The foundation and fireplace were constructed of bricks reportedly brought over from Holland. The front door facing Flatbush Avenue opened to a long hall with a square sitting room to the right and a dining and living room to the left.

The Revolutionary War Period

Dominie Freeman reportedly enjoyed good wine, and when he came to America, he brought with him a considerable quantity from Holland, which he kept in a wine cellar in the west wing of the house. Reportedly, the British Red Coats overindulged on Dominie’s good wine during the Battle of Long Island in August 1776.

According to one story, Dominie Freeman was a Whig — the political party that believed in separating from England — and a neighbor by the name of John Ruble was a Tory, and thus,  did not want America to separate from England. Ruble told the British of the sparkling wine in the cellar, and even directed them to the house.


A side view of the Bergen house at 972 Flatbush Avenue in 1877.

Dominie Freeman reportedly hid the wine in the eaves of the house, and then took to the woods with his family, including his only child, Anna Margaretta, and his son-in-law, David Clarkson. The British eventually found the wine and for three days took part in a drunken revelry. By the end of the party, the Red Coats had all but passed out under the trees in the yard. Had the American officers known about the effects of the “find” they might have utilized the knowledge and changed the course of history.

David Clarkson and his bride took possession of the homestead during the Revolution, and at one time the home was used as a military prison and later as a hospital after the battle.


Sometime after the war ended, the home and farm came into the possession of Hendrik Suydam, who in turn willed the property to his daughter Gertrude. In 1785, Gertrude married Cornelius Bergen, the son of Hans (Johannes) Bergen of Norway and Catryntie De Hart. Cornelius served as the Sheriff of Kings County from 1794-98, and from 1800 to 1805.

For over 100 years, the property stayed in the Bergen family. John C. Bergen, the son of Cornelius and Gertrude, inherited the home and large farm as per his mother’s will dated April 25, 1838. John and his wife, Belinda Antonide, had several children — Cornelia Lozier Bergen, Mrs. Abraham Lott (Gertrude), and Mrs. William H. Story (Maria) — who continued to own and lease the house until about 1900.

The End of Whitby Kennels and the Bergen Homestead


Several of Hurlbut Chapman’s Angora cats won prizes at the first annual National Cat Show at Madison Square Garden II in 1895. A year later, his cat Marie escaped from the show.

In March 1896, Hurlbut’s cat Marie — a brown and black Angora from Paris — was one of several cats to escape from the second annual National Cat Show at Madison Square Garden II. She was captured shortly thereafter, and was awarded a silver bowl for best long-haired cat in her class.

Three months later, Hurlbut Chapman died at the age of 38 (pneumonia) at his home in the old Leggett estate on Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains, New York. By this time, the Whitby Kennels were located in what was once the Village of Kensico (now Valhalla), just north of White Plains, and were being managed by Chapman’s female cousin. In addition to boarding cats, dogs, and horses, the cousin also reportedly had a small pet cemetery on the grounds, where, in 1896, one cat and three dogs were buried.

KensicoVillage_HatchingCat.jpgThe Village of Kensico — population 200 — was burned down and then flooded in 1913 to create the Kensico Dam, which was completed in 1917. Here’s a great video about the village and the dam.

In the late 1880s and early 1890s, the old Bergen homestead — still owned by the heirs of John C. Bergen — was leased and occupied by Secretary William H. Brown of the Williasmsburgh Fire Insurance Company. William Brown and his wife were quite social, and many a party and wedding took place at the home during the 15 years that they lived there.

Then on January 19, 1901, workmen began tearing down the house. Luckily, the family was able to salvage a cannonball that had become implanted in the walls during the Battle of Long Island, and a window on which were engraved several names of patriots who fought in the Revolution.

972 FlatbushAvenue_HatchingCat.jpgIn 1905, the Chelsea Improvement Company developed Prospect Park South, a 50-acre tract that included part of the old John C. Bergen farm. Then in 1906, the Abels-Gold Realty Company constructed six brick structures on the property fronting Flatbush Avenue, each with stores on the lower levels and apartments above. These buildings are still standing today.


Just across the street at 977 Flatbush Avenue was the old Teunis Bergen homestead, built around 1835. Over the years, the home’s large parlor served as a place of worship for several Brooklyn churches, including the Presbyterian Church, Baptist Church of the Redeemer, and St. Mark’s Methodist Church. The home also served as an annex for the nearby Erasmus Hall High School.

In 1903, Spencer C. Cary purchased the home, which at that time was owned by the Empire Dairy Company. Cary sold the home to the Borden Milk Company in 1910, and soon thereafter the old home was razed.


William Fox’s Albemarle Theatre was constructed on the site of the Teunis Bergen homestead in 1920. The building was damaged in a fire in 1984, but was subsequently purchased by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who still use the building as their Assembly Hall.