It’s a Dog’s Life

Peg Ross introduced us to Greene’s notable horses from the past in a recent Chenango American article.  In her baseball story, she told about Rover Smith, a happy-go-lucky dog, mascot of the Resolute baseball team.  From the pages of the 1880s Chenango American comes another memorable Greene dog, one who captured my heart. 

From time to time the Chenango American editor of that era chastised readers for letting their dogs run loose and terrorize neighborhoods (young lions, he called them); yet Sandy Burlingame was special.  His adventures were written up in the newspaper.

Sandy was a big, black Newfoundland dog whose master was George H. Burlingame, a men’s clothier.  A stuffed black bear at the store’s entrance identified the Genesee Street business.  The Burlingame family home was on North Chenango Street between today’s Community Services building and Birdsall Brook. 

We first meet Sandy in an 1882 article.  Village merchants, concerned, confer with each other.  A shady-looking young man has been visiting businesses and buying insignificant items with small change.  Suspecting a burglar about to strike, Lyman Rogers, the Chenango House proprietor, alerts the village constable, asking him to keep a careful watch about town at night.  George Burlingame places Sandy, the family dog, in his clothing store as overnight guard.  

At four o’clock on a Tuesday morning, Constable Lawton hears glass breaking and hurries toward the sound.  He sees that Mr. Burlingame’s store has had a large pane of glass smashed from its front door. 

Meanwhile, Sandy the watchdog, sound asleep inside, hears a commotion and rouses himself.  He sees a leg coming into the store through the broken glass—then another leg.  Now alert, he grabs one leg firmly with his huge jaws, holding it tight.  Then the intruder speaks to him kindly and coaxes him to let go.  He does.  He is told to go lie down.  He does.  He quietly watches the man go about his business.    

The story to this point is believable enough.  While Newfoundland dogs are strongly protective of family members, especially children, they are not ferocious guard dogs.  They are apt to be docile and laid-back in their protectiveness, rather than bark or growl.  They rely on size and watchfulness to warn an unwanted intruder and will get between the intruder and the family.  If a family member is threatened, the Newfoundland will act.  But take on a burglar?  No, at least not Sandy.      

Sandy’s involvement ends here, but the remarkable story continues.  What happened that October of 1882 seems almost unbelievable now.  From outside, Constable Lawton spotted the burglar gathering up goods by candlelight.  He feared if he entered the store from the front, the burglar would escape out the rear.  Sprinting to the Chenango House for help, he came back with Eugene Marvin, hotel porter, who was to guard the front door.  The constable crept around to the rear of the store. 
The burglar climbed out a back window and dropped to the ground.  Constable Lawton collared him; a passer-by asked if he needed assistance.  As the constable turned his head to reply, the burglar thrust a revolver against the constable’s chest—and fired! 

The revolver’s hammer went down.  As it did, a shoestring that had come out of the burglar’s pocket with the pistol caught between the hammer and the cartridge, preventing it from exploding.  That, and that alone, saved the constable’s life.  There was a struggle for the pistol, and the officer came out the winner…well, at least at that point.  The man was searched and found to have two revolvers, small change, eight railroad tickets to the West, matches, candles, and watches and jewelry taken from the Burlingame store.  

Constable Lawton had been up all Monday night, and Tuesday was busy with procedural work.  His job done, he needed sleep.  He took the handcuffed prisoner to his house and hired his son and a friend—ages thirteen and seventeen—as guards, while he slept in the next room.  The young guards themselves dozed off, and the burglar escaped late Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, an Auburn Prison representative arrived in Greene and determined that the burglar was John Farrell, an escaped convict from the prison’s insane department.  He had been on the loose for six weeks.  The official warned that the prisoner was a troubled man who would not hesitate to murder.  Farrell was responsible for a past burglary at the Oxford railroad depot, and later would be suspected of a Coventry break-in and attempted murder.

News of the escaped convict spread around Greene, and people were uneasy; they they added extra locks to doors and windows.  Men armed themselves heavily, and ferocious dogs were in great demand.   

Other than speculation, further news of the escapee was non-existent.  As other local happenings moved to the forefront, Chenango American coverage of the Farrell event faded.  Whether or not he was captured and returned to prison, we don’t know.  We do know that a jail was built four years later as part of the Fireman’s Hall building that now houses the town and village offices. 

Sandy on his Travels is the headline for the second newspaper article featuring Sandy.  Five months after his guard dog escapade, Sandy turned to railroads for adventure.

As Mr. Samuel Walker of Greene strolled toward the railroad station for a trip to Binghamton, his neighbor dog Sandy trailed behind.  Mr. Walker spotted Sandy and sent him home.  While waiting at the depot for the train, Mr. Walker noticed Sandy again, this time at his side.  He scolded the dog and told him to go home, but Sandy stayed put.  What to do?  The train pulled up to the station, and Mr. Walker saw his chance to escape.  When Sandy wasn’t watching, he leaped aboard.   
Five miles south of Greene, where the railroad bridge crossed the river, the brakeman was tending the stove at the rear of the train.  Glancing out the train’s back window, he discovered a huge black animal sitting on the outdoor platform, rocking with the rhythm of the rails.  Startled, he opened the door…and in walked Sandy.  Sandy soon found a disbelieving Mr. Walker, who informed the trainmen whose dog he was.

The trainmen took Sandy to the express car, where they fed and cared for him.  He continued his journey to Binghamton and came back to Greene on the evening train.   

Sandy was the pet of the railroad men and the talk of the town.  People admired his ability to jump on to the train’s open platform and maintain his footing as the speeding train swayed around curves.  What led Sandy to this adventure?  Spring fever?  Loyalty?  Opportunity?  Or just his nature.  Newfoundlands are loyal companions.  Further, they are working dogs—courageous, strong, and intelligent.  The Lewis and Clark Expedition included Meriwether Lewis’s Newfoundland dog Seaman as a working member.       

Two years later Sandy made his third Chenango American appearance.  The Burlingames went up the Chenango River to enjoy a family picnic—perhaps at Smith’s Cove, a favorite picnic spot at that time.  Sandy went along for the day. 

Sometime during the pleasant outing, Mrs. Burlingame took a piece of children’s clothing out of its wrapping and discarded the paper.  The family enjoyed their picnic, and as evening came, they started for home.  They saw Sandy plunge into the river and swim a long distance toward Greene.

When they arrived home, Sandy was nowhere to be seen.  Since Newfoundlands excel as swimmers, lifeguards, and water rescuers, Mr. Burlingame was not concerned for the dog’s safety; however, as time went by, he began hunting around town.  No Sandy. 

The next day, Mr. Burlingame went back to the picnic spot.  There was Sandy, faithfully guarding the wrapping paper Mrs. Burlingame had discarded.  They had a joyous reunion.  

Sandy Burlingame:  gentle, loyal, courageous.  I have seen obituaries in the Chenango American for other favored Greene dogs—Rover Smith, Rover Goff, and Jack Carter.  But still I search for what became of the lovable Sandy.

Christine Buck