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Sir Bedivere – A Lyndhurst Legend

By Amy Fernandez

The general public may never truly appreciate the esoteric knowledge required to breed great purebred dogs. It takes an incredible amount of time and effort to learn this stuff. However, there’s one aspect of purebred quality that they will instantly latch onto… MONEY!

Regardless of the breed, a whopping gigantic price tag never fails to grab their attention. This fact is as old as the sport itself. Take Sir Bedivere for instance. He made big news when Jay Gould’s young son, Frank, purchased the dog for his newly established St. Bernard kennel up at Lyndhurst Estate in Tarrytown. As the Times reported in a March 18, 1898 Kansas City, Missouri dateline: “As a result of negotiations begun at the recent Madison Square Garden show Frank J. Gould has become the owner of Le Prince, the celebrated ten-thousand dollar Saint Bernard now being exhibited by C. A. Pratt of Little Rock, Arkansas. Two other Saint Bernards, La Queen and Sir Bedivere, were also sold to Mr. Gould and will be shipped to New York on Saturday. Mr. Pratt declined to state the price.”

That was the tasteful thing to do, but it was an open secret. Young Frank truly turned on the money tap to stock his short-lived but much celebrated kennel. He wasn’t inclined to start at the bottom. Thanks to his older sister, Helen, the project was ready for liftoff. Lyndhurst’s associate director Krystyn Silver explains, “Frank couldn’t inherit until he reached 21. So when he turned 18 his older sister, Helen, who was acting as his guardian realized that this kid was in drastic need of constructive direction. Helen decided to channel his energy into something that was already a well-established passion of the Gould family. But Frank was flighty,” Krystyn admits. “His involvement with the dogs spanned about 1890-1905.”

That’s just when America’s dog game started taking off. And as Krystyn points out, “Frank’s kennel at Lyndhurst was among the first grand purebred kennels in this country.” That’s true. There was J.P. Morgan who basically had the field to himself until Samuel Untermyer started Greystone Kennels. Their money-fueled rivalry ignited much broader interest in the entire dog game. So Frank entered the sport at precisely the moment when big money owners, fabulous kennels, and incredibly expensive winners reset the dial for competitive conformation. It was an unbeatable recipe.

His sister not only encouraged him to pursue this sport, she built a glorious kennel. All that he needed to do was fill it up with winners. Jeezzz, that is the way to live!

As Krystyn explains, “The second owner of the estate doubled the size of the house.” And there was plenty of room for expansion with a 67 acre spread. “Jay Gould acquired it in April 1880 and his daughter, Helen, took over after his death. She continued to upgrade and enhance the place with additions like a bowling alley and the kennel. Frank Gould’s kennel master was a man by the name of Walter Johnson.” Frank didn’t bother with the long arduous search for foundation stock. He went for the prepackaged success. He not only purchased Johnson’s kennel, but Walter came with the deal, living at Lyndhurst and running the operation as a full-time kennel manager.

And it was a good deal. Frank’s Saint Bernards did plenty of winning. As the Times reported on September 13, 1900, “The kennel of Saint Bernard dogs valued at $80,000 owned by Frank J. Gould of Irvington carried off all the honors at the dog show in Vermont this week. Harnesa Jessmim won Best Of Breed… His most recent purchase, she also garnered several non regular prizes, which was impressive considering that she had arrived from Europe just a few days before the show for the shocking price of $8000 and was then considered the largest and best marked Saint in the country. She also earned him a silver cup for best kennel in the show that day. Not a bad start at all.”

Frank’s purchases were so over the top that they merited mainstream news coverage for their prices alone. But Sir Bedivere was the crowning jewel of Frank’s dream team kennel. He was very famous before Frank acquired him. Among other things, he was the cover dog of the February 28 issue of Illustrated American which announced his purchase by E. B. Sears’ Wyoming Kennels in Melrose, Massachusetts. for the shocking price of $6500. But he was “supposedly the best Saint that had ever been seen.” As if to confirm his credentials by association the story added that he had come over on the same steamer as Sarah Bernhardt.

There were 175 Saint Bernards at Westminster that year and just get your head around that number of giant dogs in one ring. But “Sir Bedivere was the one most spectators wanted to see.” Sir Bedivere was quite possibly the most widely publicized purebred of his era. He was definitely big, reportedly weighing 220 pounds, measuring nearly eight feet from nose to tail tip and 34 inches at the shoulder. That fact coupled with his reported value virtually guaranteed paying spectators wherever he went. According to Illustrated American, “He was accorded the honor and dignity of a double cage, artistically decorated.” Needless to say, he won big that year, judged by none other than Anna Whitney, likewise a New York blueblood and Saint Bernard expert, as well as the first woman to judge at Westminster.

Much celebrated in his day, Sir Bedivere’s career almost became a pyramid scheme as he changed owners practically every year for continually escalating prices. He again made news when he was shown at Westminster 1894. American Field called him, “fully able to still retain his high title as the king of his division.” But added that the entry as a whole–173 that year–“except for 25 or so, they were an extremely seedy lot.” The next year he was acquired by Argyle Kennels in Little Rock, Arkansas. From there he hopped a train back east to Lyndhurst.

To be fair, the entire breed was caught up in a maelstrom of fad breeding and inflationary pricing in those years. You might compare it to the infamous tulip craze that overran Holland. (Thousand dollar tulip bulbs–I got some beanie babies to sell, too).

Even though purebred dogs were woven into the Gould family heritage, Frank really was flighty. His Saint Bernard obsession faded fast once that he discovered romance. He married young, but it wasn’t in his nature to settle down. He faded from the Saint Bernard world but his “playboy” lifestyle continued to make news long after he left the dog biz and lost his wife. “He created the Gould Challenge Cup as his parting gesture to the breed.” Krystyn adds that this awesome piece of Saint Bernard history will be on view for Westminster in the mansion library. Their special Westminster display also features historic pictures such as Frank Gould’s first Saint Bernard litter whelped at the kennel. “Upstairs in the art gallery we also have their trophy cups and in the center is the Frank Gould Saint Bernard cup and a smaller challenge cup, one awarded for Smooths and one for Roughs.” I took a look and I think that’s a damn fine parting gesture.

Unfortunately you will not be able to tour the kennel but it is definitely worth taking a look. They don’t build them like that anymore. And just in case you really appreciate purebred history, the Trust is attempting to restore the kennel to its former glory. The big job is replacing the building’s cedar shingles, which comes with an estimated $80,000 price tag on that bit of home repair. (Ouch, but I live in an ancient house myself so I can totally believe that.)

Lyndhurst was continuously occupied by the Gould family until 1961 when the estate was turned over to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. But the thing is they really lived there. So you can imagine how much great dog stuff they managed to accumulate. And you can see lots of it this weekend at America’s most iconic dog show.

Short URL: https://caninechronicle.com/?p=204255

Posted by on Jun 11 2021. Filed under Current Articles, Dog Show History, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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  • June 2021