There’s still nearly two years go to, but I can’t wait… Newer fanciers may not even have heard of Morris & Essex Kennel Club, the historical dog show event that’s held only once every five years, but that shouldn’t stop you from setting aside Thursday, October 1st, 2015 for a visit to this legendary show.
Morris & Essex in its time was perhaps the most famous dog show in the world, vying for that position with Westminster and Crufts. Its beginning dates back to 1927, and for more than three decades this was the highlight of the year for thousands of dog fanciers. In 1958 the show was cancelled after a disagreement about dates between AKC and the imperious woman behind the show, Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, who then decided to instead focus on the still thriving St. Hubert’s Giralda animal welfare center. The memory of the show lingered, however, and in the year 2000 a devoted team, some of whom had personal memories of the old show, succeeded in bringing Morris & Essex to life again. The revival was a resounding success, and since then, once every five years, everyone who cares about dog shows and dog show history convenes in Madison, New Jersey, to resurrect the memory of a one-of-a-kind dog show.
So what made the “old” Morris & Essex KC show unique? Well, to begin with, its presiding genius was no ordinary woman. Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge was one of America’s richest women, born in 1882 as the youngest daughter of the Standard Oil tycoon William A. Rockefeller, Jr. When she married Marcellus Hartley Dodge, Sr., president of the Remington Arms company, in 1907 it was the society wedding of the year and a merging of two great family fortunes —hundreds of millions of dollars “in the days when that was still a lot of money,” as someone put it. (We’re talking billions in today’s value.) The couple had a Fifth Avenue mansion, of course, but also bought several country properties, and Mrs. Dodge spent most of her time at her vast estate, Giralda Farms, in Madison, New Jersey. She loved animals, especially dogs and horses. The tragic death of the couple’s only son, Marcellus Dodge, Jr., in a car accident in France in 1930 sent his mother into a deep depression and is credited with making her focus even more strongly on her animals than before. The kennel at its peak housed over a hundred dogs: German Shepherd Dogs and English Cocker Spaniels were two of the favorites, but there were Best in Show winners in many breeds.
Winning — and judging — BIS at Westminster
Mrs. Dodge won Best in Show at Westminster twice, first with the Pointer Ch. Nancolleth Markable in 1930, an English import who had also won Reserve BIS at Crufts prior to leaving his native country, and then with the fiery Doberman Pinscher Ch. Ferry v. Rauhfelsen of Giralda in 1939, “fresh off the boat from Germany.” Mrs. Dodge was not the first woman to judge at Westminster, as is sometimes stated: that honor goes to Anna H. Whitney, who judged there as early as in 1888. Mrs. Dodge was, however, the first woman to judge Best in Show at Westminster, which she did in 1933, awarding the top spot to the legendary Airedale Terrier Ch. Warland Protector of Shelterock.
Above all, however, Mrs. Dodge is remembered for, with incredible generosity, hosting a show that was truly unique. It was to be exactly the kind of show she felt the fancy needed, and since Mrs. Dodge did not have to worry about either funds or what anyone else might think, the show was a true reflection of her wishes. A more successful example of what enlightened autocracy can achieve could hardly be imagined. To begin with, Mrs. Dodge was able to use the vast lawns of what was literally her “back yard” as the judging arena. There was endless space, well-mown grass rings, flower decorations and the M&EKC banners (still seen at the modern shows) were flying in the breeze. The garden party atmosphere extended to the hospitality: the boxed lunch provided for all exhibitors, with white-gloved waiters serving the judges and officials on fine china with linen napkins. The trophies were stunning; some of them remain today, and there are so many of them that a trophy tent is required to hold them all — just one table wouldn’t be enough.
What was even more important than the glamour and the hospitality, however, was the fact that Mrs. Dodge took the choice of judges seriously. She was happy to bring in, at great expense, world-class specialists from abroad to judge the breeds that she felt could both need and appreciate it. For instance, shortly before American and English Cocker Spaniels were divided into separate breeds in 1936 the legendary British Cocker man H. S. Lloyd came over to judge 0ver 200 Cocker Spaniels. Just before World War II the father of the German Shepherd Dog, Max von Stephanitz, was brought in to judge a record entry of 271 of his favorite breed.
It’s also interesting to note that Morris & Essex was, in fact, not really an all-breed show in those days. Just how Mrs. Dodge succeeded in getting AKC’s agreement to this is not quite clear, but at Morris & Essex even recognized breeds might be competing in the Miscellaneous class. The reason for this may have been Mrs. Dodge’s strong belief that breed competition mattered, and if she didn’t believe your breed was likely to contribute a representative entry — well, then perhaps your breed wouldn’t have any breed classes or a Best of Breed award. There were fewer AKC recognized breeds in those days, of course; Morris & Essex even in its peak years classified only about 80 individual breeds.
The Entries Rolled In
Yet the entries rolled in. After a modest beginning in 1927 with 595 dogs, there were 920 the following year — already more than an average AKC all-breed show today. In 1930 there were over 1,500 entries, and by 1935 the show already had over 3,000 entries. The all-time high of 4,456 entries was reached in 1939, making Morris & Essex the biggest dog show in the world — it was even bigger than Crufts that year. Only rarely has this entry figure been surpassed at AKC shows in later years. As a comparison, the AKC Eukanuba National Championship last year had 4,181 dogs (4,337 entries), which was a record for this show but still lower than Morris & Essex long ago.
After 1957 the Morris & Essex show was only a beautiful memory for many years, something dog people who “were there” could brag about in the 1960s and ‘70s. Mrs. Dodge died in 1973, leaving $85 million to her beloved St. Hubert’s Giralda Foundation. The five-day auction of some of her art collections in 1976 attracted over 100,000 buyers and viewers.
It was not until 1997 that the idea to resurrect the show took root, however. The effort was spearheaded by Wayne Ferguson, who is still the show’s presiding genius and show chairman for all the four “modern” Morris & Essex shows (counting, of course, the 2015 event that is still in the planning stages). It was determined that the “rebirth” of the Morris & Essex Kennel Club show would take place in the fall of 2000, during the same weekend as the famous Montgomery County Terrier classic.
According to those who were present at the old Morris & Essex shows, the new one was remarkably similar to the original. The old house had been razed when the property was sold after Mrs. Dodge’s death, but the show was held on the same property as in the past, which provided a tangible link with the past. The main difference really was that sponsorship was provided not by one generous benefactor as in the past — the days when one single individual can host a whole private show are probably gone forever — but came from many sources. As in the past, box lunches were provided for every exhibitor.
The entry figure of almost 3,000 dogs making 3,218 entries was extremely satisfactory for what was, however long in history, essentially a “new” show — especially one that was held on a Thursday. (It says something about AKC’s crowded show calendar these days that even an event as important as Morris & Essex had to be held during a weekday, preceding several other all-breed shows.) The panel of 77 judges was one of the largest ever assembled at an American dog show up to that point, with practically all the senior AKC all-rounders — as well as a few breed specialists — participating.
Best in Show was judged by one of the great old-timers, Melbourne T. Downing, who selected an appropriately sensational winner. The Kerry Blue Terrier Eng. Ch. Torum’s Scarf Michael was then starting what would be a legendary show career in the U.S. He came from Great Britain, undefeated at his last half-dozen or so big shows over there, with BIS at Crufts in his back pocket. He would soon become “Mick” to the entire American dog fancy, but Morris & Essex marked his first AKC all-breed show, and his first AKC all-breed Best in Show. He went on to have one of the most brilliant dog show careers ever, taking over a hundred BIS, one of them at Westminster.
A Show Once Every Five Years
Many of those who attended Morris & Essex in 2000 hoped that this would beome an annual event, as it had been in the past. With its vast, green spaces, leisurely atmosphere and no-limit entry, it served as a perfect counterweight to such highly compressed, glitzy, big-city shows as Westminster and AKC/Eukanuba. Putting on a show of this caliber requires a tremendous amount of work and a lot of money, however, and it was decided that Morris & Essex Kennel Club would host a show once every five years. That’s too seldom to satisfy many of us, of course, and those of us who love good dog shows had a hard time waiting for the next big event.
In 2005 the show was again held on the Thursday of the Montgomery County KC weekend, attracted an entry of 3,194 dogs (3,622 entries) and found a new home at the beautiful Colonial Park in Somerset, New Jersey. Mrs. Dodge would have approved of the venue: rolling green lawns as far as the eye could see and the mile-long drive from the gate lined with banners in Morris & Essex’s logo).
One reason for the show’s big entry was the support offered by many specialty clubs. The dominance of the Terrier breeds was indisputable: over 1,200 Terriers were entered, almost three times as many as any other group. This was not surprising in view of the Montgomery Terrier show taking place three days later. The slate of judges was again unequalled, incorporating a total of 92 names —including many of the most heavyweight multi-group judges as well as a fair sprinkling of breed specialists.
The Group and Best in Show judging, performed after dark in bright floodlights, saw judge Michele Billings select as Best in Show the Colored Bull Terrier Ch. Rocky Top’s Sundance Kid, a popular choice who — like Mick five years before him — would also go on to win BIS at Westminster.
The Third “Modern” Morris & Essex
The third “modern” Morris & Essex Kennel Club show took place on Oct. 7, 2010. By now many of the best and brightest in the dog world had gotten involved, further ensuring the show’s success. The roster of members is a veritable Who’s Who in dogs, and unlike most other clubs the membership reaches across all of North America and even abroad. The big question was, of course, if the entry figures would hold. On the one hand even more breed clubs than before chose to hold specialties, supported entries and/or sweepstakes at Morris & Essex. However, the economy was in the doldrums, entries everywhere are falling, and Somerset, New Jersey isn’t exactly easy to get to for out-of-towners with dogs.
The answer was an amazing entry total of 3,090 dogs making 3,415 entries. One cannot help but wonder how many more dogs would have been entered if it had been possible to allow this great event to take place on a Saturday or Sunday, as it of course ought to be.
A special attraction at this show was a display of historical material from the impressive M&EKC memorabilia collection, and there was an inaugural art show, with an entry of 119 artworks in a competition judged by Willam Secord. For the conformation judging were 27 rings, manned by 97 judges, including at least 35 for sweepstakes.
The 2010 Best in Show judge was Robert S. Forsyth, who chose this event as the appropriate time to retire after a long and glorious career in dogs, first as a professional handler with both BIS at Westminster and No. 1 All Breeds to his credit, and later as an allrounder judge of the highest caliber. He chose as his BIS winner the Pekingese Ch. Palacegarden Malachy, then a relative youngster, bred in England. Like his predecessors, Malachy went on to win BIS at Westminster as well, in 2012.
And soon, in less than two years, it’s time for the next Morris & Essex Kennel Club event. Make a note in your diary to save Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015 for an experience of what a dog show at its best should be like.
I’ll see you there.
MORRIS & ESSEX KENNEL CLUB BEST IN SHOW WINNERS
1927 Irish Setter Ch. Higgens Red Paul. Judges Messrs. Allen, Delmont, Kirkover, Meyer & Owne. 595 entries.
1928 Sealyham Terrier Ch. Delf Discriminate of Pinegrade. Judge Alfred Delmont. 920 entries.
1929 Pomeranian Ch. Little Emir. Judge Theodore Offerman. 1,150 entries.
1930 Wire Fox Terrier Ch. Weltona Frizzette of Wildoaks. Judge Dr. J. E. deMund. 1,507 entries.
1931 Great Dane Ch. Fionne von Loheland of Walnut Hall. Judge Walter H. Reeves. 1,922 entries.
1932 Wire Fox Terrier Ch. Lone Eagle of Earlsmoor. Judge Frank A. Addyman. Judge 1,517 entries.
1933 Wire Fox Terrier Epping Eveille of Blarney. Judge Otto Gross. 2,346 entries.
1934 Sealyham Terrier Ch. Gunside Babs of Hollybourne. Judge George S. Thomas. 2,827 entries.
1935 Irish Setter Ch. Milson O’Boy. Judge G. V. Glebe. 3,175 entries.
1936 Harrier Ch. Mr. Reynal’s Monarch. Judge Dr. Henry Jarrett. 3,751 entries.
1937 English Setter Ch. Sturdy Max. Judge Dr. Samuel Milbank. 4,104 entries.
1938 Old English Sheepdog Ch. Ideal Weather. Judge Harry T. Peters. 4,213 entries.
1939 Cocker Spaniel Ch. My Own Brucie. Judge William H. Pym. 4,456 entries.
1940 Standard Poodle Ch. Blakeen Jung Frau. Judge George B. Thomas. 4,027 entries.
1941 Smooth Fox Terrier Ch. Nornay Saddler. Judge Enno Meyer. 3,833 entries.
1942-1945 show cancelled due to World War II
1946 Cocker Spaniel Ch. Benbow’s Beau. Judge Mrs. James Austin. 2,086 entries.
1947 Bedlington Terrier Rock Ridge Night Rocket. Judge Joseph C. Quirk. 2,372 entries.
1948 Bedlington Terrier Ch. Rock Ridge Night Rocket. Judge Alva Rosenberg. 2,664 entries.
1949 Scottish Terrier Ch. Walsing Winning Trick of Edgerstoune. Judge Mrs. David Wagstaff. 2,637 entries.
1950 Irish Setter Ch. Tyronne Farm Clancy. Judge Hugh A. Lewis. 2,587 entries.
1951 English Setter Ch. Rock Falls Colonel. Judge Anton A. Rost. 2,568 entries.
1952 Wire Fox Terrier Ch. Wyretex Wyns Traveller of Trucote. Judge George Steadman Thomas. 2,851 entries.
1953 Welsh Terrier Ch. Toplight Templar of Twin Ponds. Judge Anton B. Korbel.
1954 No show listed
1955 Boxer Ch. Baroque of Quality Hill. Judge Col. Edward McQuown. 2,397 entries.
1956 Dalmatian Ch. Roadcoach Roadster. Judge Mrs. Edward P. Renner. 2,304 entries.
1957 Miniature Poodle Ch. Fircot L’Ballerine of Maryland. Judge Lewis S. Worden. 2,548 entries.
No M&EKC shows held from 1958 to 2000.
2000 Kerry Blue Terrier Eng. Ch. Torums Scarf Michael. Judge Melbourne T. L. Downing. 3.223 entries.
2005 Colored Bull Terrier Ch. Rocky Top’s Sundance Kid. Judge Mrs. Michele L. Billings. 3,104 entries.
2010, Pekingese Ch. Palacegarden Malachy. Judge Robert S. Forsyth. 3,415 entries.