Hartsdale Canine Cemetery

One day in 1896, a distressed woman walked into the 120 West 25th Street office of veterinarian Dr. Samuel Johnson (Johnson was one of the early promoters of the ASPCA). The woman’s dog had just died, and she didn’t want to dispose of her beloved canine like so much garbage. She wanted her dog to have a proper burial. Dr. Johnson wasn’t aware of any way to have a pet buried in one of New York’s cemeteries, but he did tell the woman that she could bury her dog in his apple orchard not far away in the tiny hamlet of Hartsdale in Westchester County. Thus began the Hartsdale Canine Cemetery, America’s first pet cemetery. Alas, the woman’s name, the name of her dog, and the exact location of the grave were never recorded. A short time later, Dr. Johnson was having a casual conversation with a newspaper reporter about the burial, and to Johnson’s surprise, a few days after that a story about the burial of the woman’s beloved dog appeared in print. Almost immediately, Dr. Samuel Johnson’s veterinary office was flooded with requests from pet owners. Not long after, he carved out a three-acre area in his apple orchard as a burial ground for pets. Soon little headstones, wire fences, and elaborate floral arrangements were peppering the grounds. It all came to a climax in 1899 when a spaniel named Major was put to rest in a glass-topped satin-lined casket while mourners sang an expressive doxology. Since the pet cemetery hadn’t been formalized, for the first few years grieving pet owners brought their deceased four-legged friends to Dr. Johnson’s offices where they were fitted for a casket; then the pet owners would travel to Hartsdale (about a one-hour train ride) to attend the burial. In 1905, the prestigious devoted a large amount of print to describing the cemetery and the epitaphs of the permanent residents. The paper did note that the name Hartsdale Canine Cemetery was a misnomer since a variety of animals, including cats, birds, and monkeys, had already taken up residence. Most noted among the non-canines was the grave of a cat named Mignon. The grave had its own enclosure: two perfectly pruned box shrubs and an impressive two- and one-half-foot high gravestone that read “Mignon Dearest and Best Beloved Friend of Ada Van Tassel of Billington, Died Sept. 27, 1900.” Four years later, the reported that news of the pet cemetery was beginning to spread far and wide and that recently a deceased hound was shipped to the cemetery via rail from Kalamazoo. By 1913, there had been hundreds of interments, Hartsdale Canine Cemetery and the Hartsdale Canine Cemetery was formally incorporated. After incorporation, word spread rapidly, and from 1914 to 1917, more animals were buried in the cemetery than the previous 18 years. In 1915, a Mrs. M. F. Walsh paid $23,000 ($400,000 today) for the land and a 50-ton Barre granite mausoleum, the cemetery’s first mausoleum. Five members of the Walsh family’s pet population are buried there. By 1920, over 3,000 four-legged friends called the cemetery home