Friday, July 26, 2013

Elmira's Canine Celebrity

by Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

Mark Twain, Ernie Davis, John W. Jones, Ross Marvin, Hal Roach, and others like them are famous local figures.  Their names are well-known as we celebrate and remember them in our museums and community organizations.

While we frequently hear stories of these Elmira’s celebrities, one has been largely lost from our historical memory: Colonel, the Elmira Telegram’s famous St. Bernard mascot.

Before you think that I wrote that last sentence sarcastically, understand that Colonel was a big deal during the 1890s.  The Elmira Telegram adorned their publicity materials, reporter’s cards, and other materials with Colonel’s image.  A September 1890 article in The Poultry Monthly stated, “Doubtless, Colonel is the best known dog of his species in this country, and his name has become a household word, especially in the states of New York and Pennsylvania, throughout which the Telegram is almost universally read.”
Reportorial Card featuring Colonel

Colonel was born in Thun, Switzerland in 1886 and was imported to the United States in 1888 (purchasing dogs from Europe was incredibly popular during this era).  He was eventually gifted to the Telegram.  The newspaper featured him and a young boy, Paul Bloch (who later went on to found his own news empire), in a major promotional campaign.  The campaign clearly worked, because Colonel’s popularity grew and he was requested for appearances throughout the area of the paper’s readership.  In 1889, he visited Manhattan, meeting hundreds of adoring fans at the Astor House and was mobbed by thousands more at the train station.  

Promotional material featuring Colonel and Paul Bloch
Colonel made local visits, as well.  He stopped in Hornellsville to visit the town’s ladies and children.  Colonel must have had a calm temperament because a report describes the scene as such: “It was really a beautiful scene to see the children, with their tiny arms around his neck, some clinging to his sides, while others who could get near enough clung to his massive tail.  Many hugs and kisses were bestowed upon him that day.” 

Like any good celebrity, Colonel vacationed during the “hot months.”  He summered at Lake Ridge on Cayuga Lake, but returned in the Fall months to serve as an attraction at the Interstate Fair in Elmira. 

Colonel in front of the Elmira Telegram office
I’m not sure how long Colonel lived or was used by the Telegram, but he did appear on their printed materials until at least 1896.  At that point, Colonel would have been 10 years old, which for a breed of his size living in an era without modern veterinary care was rather remarkable.  Colonel has been largely forgotten, but his story reminds us that animals have long played important (and sometimes surprising) roles in our history and that celebrity can take many forms. 

UPDATE: For more on Colonel's story and his tragic end read Kelli's article "The Mascot" in New York State Archives Magazine 14, no. 4 (Spring 2015).

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