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 Elise 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.


In 1895, 71-year-old Christopher Fagan was alone in the world. All his family and friends had died and he really had no place to call home.


So he decided to build a little house along St. Nicholas Terrace somewhere around West 128th Street, right on the grounds of the Academy and Convent of the Sacred Heart. He constructed the shelter using tin sheets and various odds and ends, but everything was carefully soldered together so the shanty kept him fairly warm and dry. Inside, it was neat and clean, and he had plenty of wood fuel for the winter.

Christopher Fagan also had a large Newfoundland named Spruce to keep him company.

Point of Rocks, St. Nicholas Park

The rocky outcropping upon which Christopher Fagan made his home was no doubt part of “Point of Rocks,” which is today near West 128th Street on the upper path at the southeast corner of St. Nicholas Park. It was here that General George Washington positioned himself during the battle of Harlem Heights in 1776.

The kindhearted sisters of the Convent of the Sacred Heart allowed the elderly man to squat on their land, and even provided food for Christopher and Spruce. In return, Chris did odd jobs for the nuns when he wasn’t foraging for wood fuel.

For nine years, he and Spruce led a very simple life in their makeshift home, just a few miles away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Manhattan.

The Academy of the Sacred Heart

Founded in May 1841 by the Society of the Sacred Heart – a Catholic order of nuns — the Academy of the Sacred Heart was a boarding school and day school for girls originally located in a three-story house at 412 Houston Street. Under the charge of Mother Yelizaveta Alexeyevich Golitsyna (aka, Elizabeth Gallitzin), the academy quickly outgrew this building. In 1845, a year after Mother Gallitzin’s death, the school moved to Astoria, Queens.

Academy of the Sacred Heart

The academy quickly outgrew the home on Houston Street, which did not provide enough room for boarders.

On February 17, 1847, Mother Superior Mary Ann Aloysia Hardey finalized a deal to purchase about 62 acres from the estate of tobacco magnate Jacob Lorillard for $50,000. The estate was located just north of West 128th Street in the village of Manhattanville, high on a rocky outcropping with a view of the Harlem and Hudson rivers to the east and west.

As the story goes, the heirs of Jacob Lorillard had put the property up for sale, but at the last minute his widow, Anna Margaretta Kunze, decided she did not want to sell it to the Catholic Church. Mother Hardey ordered all the nuns and pupils to make a novena by repeating the Stations of the Cross for nine days.

Some might call it a miracle, others a fluke, but on the ninth day, Anna Margaretta died, allowing the sale to go through. (As Bishop John Hughes said, “Beware of opposing Mother Hardey, because she will kill you with her novenas.”) The price was even reduced by $20,000 and an extra twelve acres were tossed into the deal.

Manhattanville 1860

In this 1860 photo of Manhattanville, you can see some of the Convent of the Sacred Heart buildings beyond the trees in the background and some shanties and rock outcroppings in the foreground.

Over the years, many girls from well-known families graduated from the Academy of the Sacred Heart in New York, including Rose Fitzgerald (later, Mrs. Joseph Kennedy Sr.), Martha and Lilly Washington (George’s grand-nieces), and Jeanette Bell, the daughter of James Gordon Bennett.

Mary Aloysia Hardey

Mary Aloysia Hardey was a central figure in the expansion of the Society of the Sacred Heart in North America. During her 27 years as Superior, she established 16 houses of the Sacred Heart from Canada to Cuba and throughout the eastern United States. She died in Paris on June 17, 1886, and is buried in Albany, NY.

The Great Fire of 1888

“Tongues of flame leaped up a hundred feet above the doomed buildings, and cast their bright reflections on the Harlem on the north and east.” New York Times, August 15, 1888

On August 13, 1888, at about 8 p.m., flames were spotted on the roof near the cupola of the main convent building. The old building and chapel had been undergoing renovations, and it was thought that one of the tinners who was working on the roof did not extinguish a stove in the attic.

At the time, about 50 students were saying night prayers in the large class hall. There were also about 140 nuns in residence. Everyone escaped without injury; the girls were all escorted to the cottages on Convent Hill and the nuns moved into a large study hall set aside for them at nearby Manhattan College.

Academy of the Sacred Heart

By the late 1880s, the campus of the Convent of the Sacred Heart included the original building from the old Lorillard estate, a chapel and infirmary wing to the east, a large class hall to the north, a four-story music hall, several cottages, and a mansard-roofed parochial school for neighborhood children, shown here.

As they waited for the fire engines to arrive, four men who worked at the academy tried to put out the flames with a hose. Realizing their efforts to extinguish the fast-moving fire was hopeless, they turned their attention to saving valuable paintings, statues, and relics from the convent and the chapel. As the flames rapidly spread from one building to another, the men threw out whatever linen and furniture they could toss from windows.

Although numerous fire engines responded, the closest fire hydrant was 2,000 feet away, so there was very little water force by the time the hose streams reached the fire. No fuel trucks arrived with extra coal, so the firemen had to break down fences to use as fuel for the steam engines.

Academy of Sacred Heart ruins

All that was left of the Academy of the Sacred Heart were ruins following the fire in 1888.

Following the fire, classes were moved into cottages on the campus. An elaborate pavilion designed by William Schickel and built in 1879 on the estate of newspaper publisher Oswald Ottendorfer as a garden tea house served as a temporary place of worship for the nuns.

One year later, a new academy, also designed by William Schickel, rose up on the foundations of the former buildings. The school was renamed Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart in 1937 and then shortened to Manhattanville College in 1966.

aerial view of Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart

This aerial view of Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart was taken some time before 1952. The former academy buildings were vacated in 1952 when the college was moved to Purchase, New York. Only a few of the original structures remain standing on what is now part of the southern campus of the City College of New York.

Christopher and Spruce Get the Boot

About two weeks before Christmas 1904, the sisters told Christopher that they were planning on expanding the campus, and that he would have to leave. He didn’t believe this was possible, so he continued living in the shack with Spruce. One week later, an officer from the Charity Organization Society came to take him away. Christopher and Spruce were sitting in front of a bright fire at the time.

Christopher was terribly upset, but not about losing the only home he knew. He was worried about what would happen to his faithful four-footed friend.

Municipal Lodging House

The Municipal Lodging House at First Avenue and 23rd Street opened December 2, 1896, with a bed capacity for 317 male lodgers. A newer building, shown here, was constructed in 1909 to accommodate about 1,000 homeless men and women in six sleeping rooms (one room was set aside for women and children). It featured white enamel beds, shower baths, a dining room, and a laundry.

On December 18, Christopher appeared before Magistrate Hogan in Harlem Court, and was committed to the Charity Organization Society. The society sent him to the Municipal Lodging House at 398 First Avenue, where he would stay until better provisions could be found for him.

Spruce, now 16 years old and too weak to follow his master when he was taken away, stayed behind.

Josephine Shaw Lowell

Josephine Shaw Lowell, one of the founders of the Charity Organization Society, was a social reformer who led many movements in the city, including the separation of charities and corrections, creation of state asylums for women and girls, the abolition of police lodgings in New York, the establishment of municipal lodging-houses for men, and placing matrons in all police stations.

Christopher, now 80 years old, was inconsolable without his dog. A few days later, he found out that the sisters had heard Spruce wailing in the cold shanty during a storm. They brought him into the convent and fed him, and gave him a warm place to sleep in the cellar.

Fagan was glad to hear that Spruce was being cared for, but he begged for his dog to be returned to him as soon as the Society found him a new home. He said he and his dog would soon die unless they were reunited.

I’m sorry to say that I do not know how this story ended, but hopefully man and dog were allowed to spend their final years together.

When you compare this recent aerial view of the CUNY southern campus with that of the former Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart, you'll see that some of the buildings are the same, including the Convent Garden Apartments on West 130th Street (bottom right) and a few of the buildings on Convent Avenue (left).

When you compare this recent aerial view of the CUNY southern campus with that of the former Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart, you’ll see that some of the buildings are the same, including the Convent Garden Apartments on West 130th Street (bottom right) and a few of the buildings on Convent Avenue (left).