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 many 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 all 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.

Although the story of Yankee Stone is not very interesting on its own, the people and places surrounding the dog and his death are quite fascinating, and provide a unique look at high society Brooklyn during the Gilded Age.

Yankee Stone bulldog

Yankee Stone and his sister Linda Stone, pictured here, were champion bulldogs said to be worth $3,000 each in the early 1900s.

“The good citizens who reside in the aristocratic Clinton Avenue section were startled last night by hearing a pistol shot ring out from the yard of Kingsley Swan. Windows were thrown open, heads appeared and neighbors came running to 180 Clinton Avenue, the home of Mr. Swan, to find out what happened.”

So begins the story printed in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on December 3, 1908.

Kingsley Swan, the Entitled Heir of a Brooklyn Legend

Born in Brooklyn on May 12, 1884, Kingsley Swan was the son of Wall Street broker Samuel Swan and Mary S. Kingsley. Although his father was fairly well-to-do, Kingsley inherited his wealth – and his place in high society – from his grandfather, William Charles Kingsley.

William Kingsley was a Brooklyn contractor and builder whose company, Kingsley and Keeney, built Prospect Park. He was also one of the owners of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and, drum roll, please, the principal shareholder of the New York and Brooklyn Bridge Company, the company organized in 1867 to build the Brooklyn Bridge.

William Charles Kingsley

William C. Kingsley was the driving force behind the Brooklyn Bridge, and reportedly not only dreamed up the idea but helped finance the project. He died in February 1885, just two years after he spoke at the opening ceremonies of the bridge on May 24, 1883. His headstone at Green-Wood Cemetery is made of materials that were once part of the bridge construction.

When he was about 10 years old, Kingsley’s mother died, and his father headed west. Kingsley and his younger brother Halstead moved in with their grandmother at 176 Washington Park, near Fort Greene Park (prior to 1897, Fort Greene Park was called Washington Park.)

Following his schooling at the Polytechnic Preparatory School, the Brooklyn Latin School, and Lawrenceville Academy in New Jersey, Kingsley took a job at the Brooklyn Eagle. On October 1, 1908, he married 19-year-old Park Slope socialite Mabel Lorraine Miller, the daughter of paper manufacturer Alvah Miller and Phoebe A. Miller.

Having inherited great wealth from his grandfather, Kingsley spent most of his time exhibiting horses, racing automobiles, and taking part in other sporting fads and social clubs for millionaires. In 1908, when he was just 24 years old, he was also one of the most successful bulldog fanciers in Brooklyn.

Alvah Miller

Mable Swan’s father, Alvah Miller, made his fortune in paper manufacturing, and was vice president of the St. Regis Paper Co. in Watertown, NY. He also served as a director in the Mechanics’ Bank of Brooklyn, a trustee with the Hamilton Trust Fund, and a trustee of the Dime Savings Bank of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The Killing of Yankee Stone

Two of Kingsley’s most famous champion bulldogs were Linda and Yankee Stone. In 1908, these dogs, as well as two other bulldogs and Mrs. Swan’s pet toy fox terrier, lived with the couple in a four-story brownstone at 180 Clinton Avenue in Fort Greene.

Sometime just after midnight on December 2, 1908, the little terrier made the mistake of leaving his bed upstairs and entering the kitchen, which was Yankee Stone’s indoor territory. The bulldog growled and jumped on the terrier’s back, sinking his teeth into the terrier’s neck. Within moments, the other bulldogs joined in the fight.

Mabel Lorraine Miller Stone

Mable Lorraine Miller — more often called Lorraine — was described in the New York and Brooklyn press as “one of the most attractive of society’s younger belles” when she was formally introduced to society on Thanksgiving Day in 1907.

The first to arrive on the scene was Hugh Bracken, Kingsley’s long-time servant and coachman who had been with the family since Kingsley’s childhood. He tried to separate the dogs, which encouraged Yankee to go after him while the little dog ran for cover. Yankee was biting Hugh when Kingsley came to the rescue and pulled Yankee Stone away.

While the other dogs quickly calmed down, Yankee continued to growl. Kingsley tossed him in the back yard and went for his pistol.

Clinton Avenue – Brooklyn’s Gold Coast

Clinton Avenue was named for New York State Governor DeWitt Clinton. Clinton was the chief supporter of the Erie Canal, which established New York and Brooklyn as America’s leading harbors and commercial centers.

180 Clinton Avenue, Brooklyn.

In 1908, Kingsley, Mabel, a fox terrier, and four prize bulldogs lived in this 1899 brownstone at 180 Clinton Avenue (the unit on the far left). The pair of brick and limestone residences to the left at Nos. 184-188 were designed by Montrose Morris in 1892 for American painter William Holbrook Beard.

Located on one of the highest points in Brooklyn, the broad tree-lined street had attracted affluent people who erected large suburban villas in the 1830s, and, later, in the 1860s and 1870s, oil executives and financiers who built impressive brick and limestone mansions.

Although most of the mansions had already been replaced by row houses in 1908, and many of the old-money folks had moved or passed on, it’s still safe to say that the new-money aristocrats on the hill never expected to hear the sound of gun shots on their quiet street.

136 Clinton Avenue

One of the few magnificent Clinton Avenue villas that still survive from the early 1800s is No. 136, aka the Lefferts-Laidlaw House. This Greek Revival home was built circa 1836-1840 and is now a city landmark. Also check out No. 284, another early wood dwelling on Clinton Street that still survives.

The Ryersons, Vanderbilts, and Spaders

The Clinton Hill history begins around 1637, when Joris Jansen Rapalje, a Walloon tavern keeper who lived on Pearl Street in Manhattan, purchased 167 morgens (335 acres) of lowland and mud flats on an inlet in the Wallabout Bay (then called Waal-bogt Bay). Joris and his wife Catalina Trico moved to the farm in the 1650s, and were later joined by their daughter Sara and her husband, Hans Hansen Bergen. The brothers Pieter and Jan Monfort also established a large farm there.

Wallabout Bay pre Brooklyn Navy Yard

At the time of the American Revolution, Wallabout was a farming community of about a dozen inter-related families living along the shore of Wallabout Bay, just north of present-day Flushing Avenue.

A good portion of this farmland was later acquired by Marten Ryerse (Ryerson), who had married the Rapaljes’ daughter Annetje around 1645. Over the next 100 years, the land was passed down to generations of Ryersons, Vanderbilts, and a few other families.

Following the American Revolutionary War, an army private named William Spader of Somerset County, New Jersey, moved to Brooklyn. He married Annie Vanderbilt, the daughter of Jeremiah Vanderbilt and Antje Ryerson, and established a farm near the Vanderbilt property on the Wallabout Turnpike. When the Spaders later later moved to Bedford, their sons John L. and Jeremiah V. stayed behind.

Wallabout Bay

This engraving from 1847 depicts the view of the Wallabout Bay, the Wallabout Turnpike (Flushing Avenue), and the Brooklyn Navy Yard from the vantage point of what was then called Washington Park. Today this entire area is occupied by the former Brooklyn Navy Yard.

In February 1821, a year after Jeremiah Vanderbilt died, all his land comprising the old Monfort farm patent was put up for auction. Jeremiah Vanderbilt Spader and his wife, Maria Bergen, bought 38 acres that extended from today’s Flushing Avenue to Willoughby Avenue between Vanderbilt and Clermont. The widow Antje Vanderbilt purchased 72 adjacent acres extending from Wallabout Bay to the Brooklyn and Jamaica Turnpike Road (Fulton Street) between present-day Vanderbilt and Waverly avenues. She later sold this land to her grandson John Spader.

In 1833, at the peak of a Brooklyn development boom, John Spader sold his farm for $62,593.27 to George Washington Pine, a partner in Pine & Van Antwerp, a New York City auction house. The development was laid out quite generously, with individual lots measuring 100 x 246 feet. Clinton Avenue, which ran down the center of the development from the Wallabout Bay to the Brooklyn and Jamaica Turnpike Road, was developed as an 80-foot-wide boulevard with a double row of trees.

1884 Map Clinton Avenue Brooklyn

The generous-sized lots on extra-wide Clinton Avenue accommodated large, free-standing wood and brick-lined villas set back behind wide lawns and gardens, as seen on this 1884 map (yellow is wood frame, red is brick). The lots extended to the rear streets (Vanderbilt and Waverly Avenues), on which carriage houses and stables were built. New York Public Library Digital Collections

Meanwhile, Jeremiah Spader held out, leaving most of his property undeveloped so he could continue farming. He died in 1838, but his wife stayed on until she sold the property at auction on March 27, 1849. Jeremiah’s land was divided into 100 standard city lots, most measuring 25 by 100 feet.

The War of the Swans

Other than the incident with Yankee Stone, the first few months of Kingsley and Lorraine’s marriage seemed typical for newlyweds in Brooklyn high society. The couple often appeared in the newspaper society pages, and their masquerade ball at the Pouch Gallery in December 1908 was a big hit with the socialites on Clinton Hill.

Pouch Gallery, 345 Clinton Avenue

The house and stables at 345 Clinton Avenue was built in 1887 for wallpaper manufacturer Robert Graves. Sadly, Robert lost his beloved wife months before the house was completed, and he died only weeks later. The property went up for auction, and in 1890, it was purchased by oil executive Alfred Pouch. Following the death of Albert and Harriet Pouch in 1899 and 1905, respectively, “The Pouch” became the most popular venue in Brooklyn for weddings, meetings, and balls. It was torn down during World War II, when most of the block was razed to build housing for Navy Yard personnel. Today, the Clinton Hill Co-ops stand in its place.

Sometime in 1912, Lorraine gave birth to a boy, whom the couple named Kingsley Swan Jr. Dad paid little attention to his son, however, as he was too busy gallivanting with his friends at horse and dog shows, spending time at his Croton Lake Kennels in Katonah, New York, and racing his fancy automobiles. At her husband’s suggestion, Lorraine moved back home with her parents and he returned to his grandmother’s estate. Kingsley came to visit his wife and son one time in 1913, but he never returned.

Kingsley Swan

Kingsley Swan told his wife he spent too much money on his horses, dogs, and cars to support her and his son. Here he is pictured in 1906 on his horse Six.

In March 1914, Lorraine was granted a divorce in Reno, Nevada, on grounds of desertion, non-support and cruelty. She told the judge that her husband had failed to support her and told her that reconciliation was impossible. He simply could not support her and the baby and keep up his social clubs, automobiles, and horses. Society first learned of the divorce when a dispatch appeared in the newspaper stating that Lorraine had fallen from a horse in a Nevada “colony of misfit mates.”

Immediately after the divorce, Lorraine married 57-year-old Robert Graves, the son of the wallpaper manufacturer (you remember, the guy who built the Pouch mansion on Clinton Avenue where the Swans held their masquerade). She and Robert lived in Huntington, Long Island, and also had an apartment at 67 Park Avenue. They had had a son, Richard Barbey, and a daughter, Lorraine.

The Graves were divorced in Paris in 1922. Two years later, Robert Graves shot himself twice in the head in their Park Avenue apartment.

In December 1928, Lorraine moved back home from Paris to give it another try – this time with Benjamin Wood, the son of Fernando Wood, three-time Mayor of New York City. They lived together at 4 East 72nd Street in Manhattan until Benjamin’s death at home in March 1934.

Mabel Lorraine Swan Graves Wood

The society pages had a field day when Mabel Lorraine’s third marriage to Benjamin Wood was confirmed in 1929. The story of “Lovely Lorraine” made it even as far as Butte, Montana, as reported here in the Butte Standard on January 13.

Less than a year later, on January 3, 1934, Lorraine made the headlines one more time when she eloped and married Kiliaen Van Rensselaer — a direct descendent of the Kiliaen Van Rensselaer who came to America in the 1600s and was the first patroon of Van Rensselaerwyck. The couple lived on and off again (they often separated) in Old Westbury, Long Island, and at their summer home at Lloyd Harbor in Huntington, Long Island. Kiliaen died at their home, Post Cottage, on Post Road in Old Westbury in August 1949.

On March 7, 1950, the lovely Lorraine married Lieutenant Colonel Henry Aldrich Granary in her home at 563 Park Avenue. (In case you lost track, this is husband #5.) They also lived in Old Westbury, which is where she died on July 26, 1953, at the age of 64. She was survived by her daughter, Mrs. Oliver R. Grace of Manhattan, and her sons, Kingsley Swan Jr. of Lyme, Connecticut, and Richard Graves of Old Westbury.

Lorraine Van Rensselaer

The press loved covering the many marriages of Mabel Lorraine Miller Swan Graves Wood Van Rensselaer. In this article, she’s pictured with her son, Kingsley Jr. Kiliaen is pictured dressed for a ball (he’s on the left).


What About Kingsley?

Kingsley’s life after Lorraine was a lot less complicated. He married a woman named Julia Murray in 1916 and two years later he enlisted in the army. He served for a brief time at Camp Wadsworth and Camp Stuart, but he was discharged due to heart trouble. He died suddenly of heart disease on August 22, 1918, at the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn. He was just 34 years old.

Kingsley Swan left $10,000 to his brother, $21,000 to Hugh Bracken, $65,000 to Julia, and $27,000 to Kingsley Jr. He was buried in the Kingsley plot at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Hotel St. George, Brooklyn Heights

Kingsley Swan died at the Hotel St. George in 1918. Only a modest 30 rooms when it was first built in 1885, the hotel continually expanded and eventually amounted to eight interconnected buildings when it was completed in 1929. The hotel occupied the full city block bounded by Clark, Henry, Pineapple and Hicks streets.

And so ends the tale of Yankee Stone, Kingsley Swan, and Mable Lorraine Miller Swan Graves Wood Van Rensselaer Granary.