Tag Archives: dog

Famous and Forgotten, Toledo’s Laddie Boy, The First Presidential Pet

There have many “first dogs” who’ve wandered the hallways of the White House over the years, but you may not know that the first “First Dog” to garner regular newspaper coverage in the United State was a dog from Toledo.  It was during the administration of  President Warren G. Harding of Ohio.  In the spring of 1921, the Hardings received a seven-month old Airedale from Charles Quetschke, Harding supporter in Toledo. The Harding’s named the dog Laddie Boy and with no child of their own, this loveable Airedale would soon become treated like a member of the family. Both Harding and his wife Florence shared a love of animals and the First Lady, also an advocate for the care of abused and neglected animals, soon began employing this handsome dog as a poster “child” for the national promotion of animal rights issues.

It soon made Laddie Boy the first presidential dog with a national identity. He was a very important dog, allowed to roam the White House grounds, attend meetings with the President and was even given his own custom-made Cabinet chair. President Harding himself would take the time to write letters to children on Laddie’s behalf. Within months, this young dog from Toledo, Ohio became the most celebrated dog in the nation. Children across the country loved Laddies and on July 26th each year, he was given White House birthday parties at which other neighborhood dogs were invited to join.

I guess it would appear that Laddie Boy was the first and only Toledoan ever to reside in the White House. Having been born as the Caswell Kennels in Toledo in 1920,  he was sired by the internationally
known Airedale Champion Tintern Tip Top, owned by Charles Quetschke of Toledo.  Quetschke was a man of some interest in the area, having led a bit of an adventurous lifestyle over the years as a boxer, sports promoter, motorcyle racer and champion dancer. He is credited with being the man who started the Toledo Kennel Club and the Maumee River Yacht Club.

The legend and life of Laddie Boy, however began to change when Warren Harding took ill while visiting San Francisco in August 1923.  As Harding lay on his death bed, it was reported that Laddie Boy, back at the White House, could sense his master’s impending death and howled constantly for three days before Harding passed away.  When Florence Harding eventually left Washington to return home to Marion Ohio, the Smithsonian Institution reports that she gave Laddie Boy to Harry Barker, the Secret Service agent who had been assigned to protect her, and that Laddie Boy soon found a new life and home with the Barker family in Newtonville, Massachusetts. Laddie Boy, however did not vanish into oblivion, but was recognized by thousands of newsboys around the country who each donated a penny for a memorial to Harding and his faithful canine companion. The pennies were melted down and cast into a life-size sculpture of Laddie Boy.  Today, that sculpture resides at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, but we are told it is not on display.  Maybe, (this author’s opinion), it is time to bring the sculpture back to Toledo, the birthplace of this most celebrated Presidential pet.

A side note to that idea, is that in a 1992 Toledo Blade column by Mike Tressler, he wrote that when Laddie was given up by Florence Harding to her favorite Secret Service agent back in 1923, kennel owner Charles Quetschke of Toledo, who gave the dog to the Hardings, “begged” to have Laddie returned to Toledo, but to no avail.

Laddie Boy passed away on January 22, 1929. The New York Times ran a story the next day, describing the terrier as “magnificent,” and reported that the “end came after the dog had been ailing for many months of old age, and died while resting his head on the arms of Mrs. Barker.”  Laddie Boy was buried at an undisclosed location in Newtonville, Massachsetts.

In a stange footnote followup to this story, earlier this summer in Marion at the Harding historic home, the custom made gold collar of Laddie Boy was stolen, it was apparently the only item taken in break-in at the Harding Home and Museum in Marion.  A groundskeeper back in June arrived one morning and found a ladder leaning against the home and a second story window had been pried open. Many of the rooms were in disarray, but nothing else was missing except the treasured collar.  Marion Police distributed photos of the collar that had been made from Alaskan gold nuggets and the name “Laddie Boy” was written in raised letters on the center. So far it has not been found.




Filed under Old Places and Faces

Update on the sad tale of “Owney the Postal Dog”

After a review of the Toledo Blade article regarding this sad episode from  June 11 of 1897, it appears the name of the policeman who shot Owney was not Fred Free (or Freeman), but was a Patrolman Smith(no first name given). It also seems that Owney was not killed immediately after he reportedly bit a mail clerk at the train station, but his execution was delayed until the next day owing to the fact that the first policeman who was ordered to shoot the globe trotting pooch, refused to do so.   As a result, so states the article, that Postmaster Brand had Owney chained to a post until the next day, and then..

“Shortly after 4 o’clock yesterday, Patrolman Smith took the dog to an alley behind the police station and with a shot put an end to the career of the famous pup.”

Sgt. Beth Cooley, at the Toledo Police Museum says she is searching for the records of a Patrolman Smith who might have served on the department at that time. The Chicago Tribune had reported that the officer who shot Owney was Fred Free, but after some research into the records, Sgt. Cooley says there was no Fred Free on the department, but there was a Fred Freeman who was a Toledo policeman during that time. That could have easily been the mix-up, but the Blade said the executioner was a Patrolman Smith.

It’s also noted from this article that it had been decided before Owney was executed to have his remains stuffed and mounted and sent to the Post Museum in Washington D.C. Perhaps this was an atempt to mollify the thousands of postal clerks and others around the globe who loved the dog, as it was noted by the Blade reporter at the time that Owney’s tragic killing would “bring down the wrath of the heavens” upon the heads of those involved in Owney’s death.

Not sure if such wrath was ever visited upon Toledo.


Filed under Strange Happenings

Owney the famous postal dog met his tragic demise in Toledo

Some historical events Toledo can lay claim to and be proud of,  others,… not so much.  The Owney the postal dog story is one of the latter. This week, the U.S. Postal Service will pay tribute to the famous little postal pooch by honoring him with his own postage stamp which will officially celebrate Owney as one of America’s great animal heroes, if not the first.  If you don’t know the story of Owney, it all started by in 1888 when this scruffy Irish-Scottish Terrier  mongrel took up residence in the Albany, New York post office.  It is recounted that Owney loved the scent of the mail bags and began riding the mail wagons and then one day hopped onto a rail car and started riding the trains. It was here where Owney’s legacy was carved.  Within a few years, Owney managed to travel on these cars quite extensively and quite independently, and as he appeared at various postal stations along his routes, postal employees would affix a postal tag to his harness and collar.   He soon became laden with hundreds of tags as he routinely criss-crossed the United States on the rail cars. He even ventured in 1895 on an international journey and showed up in Japan, parts of Asia, and Europe until he safely returned to the U.S. and his home in Albany.  In short Owney was a star , perhaps the first “dog-star” in the United States long before Lassie and Rin-Tin-Tin.  He was beloved by postal employees and members of the general public alike who wanted to get a glimpse of this famous world traveling mutt.

But not everyone loved Owney. In April of 1897, the Chicago Postmaster was disgusted by Owney’s presence on the rail cars and postal stations, calling him a mongrel cur who was nothing more a nuisance to employees and that he should be banned from the rails. His remarks were widely reported at the time, and who knows if his sentiments were shared by others.  A few months later, on June 11th, 1897, Owney had made his way to Toledo and it would be his last. There are several varying accounts of what took place, but according to the Chicago Tribune, when Owney got to Toledo’s Union Station, a postal clerk called a newspaper reporter and photographer to get some pictures and a story. The clerk had chained Owney up to a post to keep him there while awaiting the arrival of the photographer. One account says that Owney detested being tied up or restrained and starting protesting loudly and when the clerk tried to get him to quiet down, Owney bit him on the hand. That action prompted the Toledo Postmaster, Rudolph Brand, to call for a policeman to come to the scene and that an officer named Fred Free, shot and killed Owney while he was still chained to the post.  The Chicago Tribune called it an “execution”.  While other newspaper accounts(perhaps engaging some damage control), said Owney had been running loose and “had gone mad” when he was shot.   We may never know exactly what happened in Toledo, or why Owney met his fate that day, but Owney’s legacy was hardly forgotten. When word surfaced around the nation that the famous mail-pooch’s stamp had been cancelled,  mail clerks throughout the country raised funds to have the cinnamon colored terrier  stuffed and preserved. His mounted body was eventually given to the Post Office Department’s headquarters in Washington.   It remained there, on display, until 1911, when it was transferred to the Smithsonian in Washington where Owney has been on display in a glass case, ever since.   Now 114 years after his death in Toledo, Owney is not only getting his own postage stamp, but his mounted remains have been restored and his exhibit, which includes hundreds of his postal tags will be displayed prominently at the museum.

If you know more about Owney’s travels and experiences in Toledo, including his death, please share. I will post any additional material here.


Filed under Famous Animals of Northwest Ohio, Uncategorized