Milson O'Boy Morris & Essex

Milson O’Boy, owned by Mrs. Gertrude G. Cheever Porter of New York City, took Best in Show at the Morris & Essex in 1935, defeating 3,175 dogs.

One of the most popular owners and breeders of championship Irish Setters in the history of show dogs was Mrs. Gertrude G. Cheever Porter of New York City. Over the years, she owned eight champion Irish Setters and numerous other show dogs. Her pride and joy was Ch. Milson O’Boy, whose career in the 1930s included 11 Best in Show, 46 Group Firsts, and 103 Best of Breed awards.

Gertrude G. Cheever was born in New York on May 3, 1889. She was the only child of John Dow Cheever and Anna Cheever of 14 East 30th Street. John was a successful banker and also the founder of the Rockaway Hunt Club.

Her grandfather, John Haven Cheever, was president of the New York Belting and Packing Co. and of the Mechanical Rubber Co. He was also one of the first businessmen to establish a country estate at Far Rockaway, then part of Long Island.

John Haven Cheever estate, Far Rockaway, Wave Crest

Gertrude’s grandfather, John Haven Cheever, was a pioneer in establishing Far Rockaway, Long Island, as a country home for well-to-do New York businessmen. He was a founding developer of Wave Crest, an 80-acre gated community of mansions on what was once the Clark estate on the western boundary of Far Rockaway (in the vicinity of today’s Spray View Avenue) The Cheever home was located on a five-acre plot about ¼ mile from the ocean, where the family farmed and raised horses.

In 1909 at the age of 20, Gertrude, a New York City debutante, had her coming-out party. About this time, or perhaps at this party, she met Seton Porter, a member of her father’s Rockaway Hunt Club. Seton was a graduate of Yale and chairman of the Board of National Distillers.

John H Cheever residence, Wave Crest, Far Rockaway

Gertrude and Seton Porter held their wedding reception in 1911 on the veranda of the John Dow Cheever country home in Wave Crest, Far Rockaway. This unusually shaped home was designed by the legendary architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White and built for $17,000 in 1886. The Cheever home was demolished in the 1940s.

The two were married at St. John’s Church in Far Rockaway on June 3, 1911, and lived at 884 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Gertrude and Seton divorced in 1924. Gertrude never remarried and she continued to go by the name of Mrs. Cheever Porter while collecting $840 a month in alimony; Seton went on to marry two more times.

A Champion Ice Skater

Before she started showing championship dogs, Gertrude was a champion ice skater with the New York Skating Club. She started skating while still married to Seton Porter, and was often paired with Irving Isaac Brokaw, another member of the club. In later years, she was the executive director of the Skating Carnival, an annual benefit event that took place at Madison Square Garden in the 1930s.

Gertrude Cheever Porter and Isaac Irving Brokaw

In 1920, Gertrude Cheever Porter and Isaac Irving Brokaw were gold-medal champions in the 10 Step, an early set pattern ice dance. Brokaw was a four-time world champion and America’s first Winter Olympian (prior to the creation of the Winter Games in 1924, ice skating was part of the Summer Games).

Conservatory Pond Central Park

Founded in 1863, the New York Skating Club was the second skating club formed in the United States. In the 1860s, members skated at the Conservatory Pond in Central Park, shown here, and then at various private ponds on Fifth Avenue.

New York Skating Club

At each skating site, the members would build a clubhouse for their exclusive use. In early years, the club had an official meteorologist, Mr. E.B. Cooke, to report on the weather and skating conditions at the rinks. This particular clubhouse was located in 1868 on the southeast corner of Central Park, just off Fifth Avenue.

St. Nicholas Ice Rink, New York

In the 1880s, refrigerated ice surfaces replaced outdoor ice ponds, many of which had been covered over for office buildings and hotels. Members of the New York Skating Club skated at two rinks named Iceland, the first on Broadway and 53rd Street and the second at 239 West 52nd Street. In 1896, the St. Nicholas Rink, shown here in 1901, opened on Columbus Avenue and 66th Street. The area was used exclusively for ice sports until 1911, when prize box fighting moved in. The building was later used as a production center for ABC and Eyewitness News. It was demolished in the 1980s and is now the site of the network’s main offices.

Requiem for the Porter Irish Setters

When she wasn’t competing on the rink, Mrs. Cheever Porter was busy showing her championship Irish Setters. Her first two show dogs, Ch. St. Cloud’s Fermanagh III “Dixie” and Ch. Lord Palmerston II “The Woods,” were born in 1924. Ch. Peggy Belle was born in 1926, followed by Red Barney, who survived less than a year and never had the chance to show. Fermanagh IV “Dixie Jr.” was born in 1931 and Milson O’Boy was born in 1932. Next was Milson Copper Lad in 1935 and another great champion, Rosecroft Premier, who was born in 1938 and quickly rose to national fame.

Ch. Rosecroft Premier

Ch. Rosecroft Premier won 124 Best of Breed awards in the 1940s. Charcoal illustration by Gladys Cook, 1945

Milson O’Boy was the son of the champion Higgins Red Coat and Milson’s Miss Sonny. The Irish Setter hit his stride at the age of three, when he won the highest honor of the year — Best in Show at the Morris & Essex Show in Madison, New Jersey. At this show and many others, he was handled by Harry Hartnett, owner of the Milson Kennels at Harrison, New York.

Milson O’Boy had numerous offspring and sired 17 championship dogs, including Ch. Milson O’Boy II, who became the foundation stock for the Knightscroft Kennels in New City, New York. This kennel produced Ch. Rosecroft Premier, who reportedly “pushed Milson O’Boy from his thrown” and was purchased by Mrs. Cheever Porter for about $1,500 in 1940.

Cheever Porter Town Car

In 1940, the year Mrs. Cheever Porter purchased Rosecroft Premier, she reportedly had a luxury Cadillac town car built, shown here. An article in Special Interest Autos claimed that the mistress of legendary singer and band leader Vaughn Monroe had the car built and designed for him. This suggests that Gertrude Cheever Porter was Monroe’s mistress, but I can’t confirm this assumption.

Milson O’Boy died on June 29, 1945, and was buried alongside six of his champion Porter “siblings” at the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. Rosecroft Premier joined the seven other setters at Hartsdale when he died on June 12, 1951.

Gertrude Cheever Porter continued showing Irish Setters and other breeds until 1979, at the age of 90. When she died on November 14, 1980, The New York Times published a very small obituary with no details about her death or burial. A gravestone with her name in Trinity-St. John’s Cemetery in Hewlett, New York, has no dates.

Gertrude Cheever Porter grave

A tombstone with the name “Gertrude Cheever Porter” suggests that she was buried at Trinity Cemetery in Nassau County.

However, she left as her legacy the Cheever Porter Foundation, which was started in June 1962 and has since made numerous grants to schools of veterinary medicine, veterinary hospitals, and guide dog foundations. In 2013, the independent foundation based in Huntington, New York, had $2.6 million in assets.

 

 

 

 

 

Cheever Porter graves, Hartsdale Pet Cemetery

Ch. Milson O’Boy died in 1945, and was buried at the legendary Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in Westchester County. Eight of Mrs. Cheever Porter’s champion Irish Setters are buried here. Photo, P. Gavan

  1. Another excellent story. Many thanks, Peggy!

  2. Thom Cronin says:

    A fascinating read.