Tag Archives: pet cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #150: Hartsdale Pet Cemetery

War DogHartsdale Pet Cemetery
75 North Central Park Avenue
Hartsdale, New York 10530
Telephone: (914) 949-2583
Founded: 1896
Size: under 4 acres
Number of interments: between 80,000 and 100,000

Until the 1890s, people who had a pet die in New York City either buried it in their gardens (if they had one) or in public parks.  Out of health considerations, the city banned the burial of animals within its city limits in 1896.

After that, since it was illegal to bury animals in human graveyards, the only option when a pet died was to put the body out with the trash.

In 1896, one of the clients of New York City veterinarian Dr. Samuel K. Johnson was distraught at the thought of discarding their beloved dog that way.  Johnson allowed the dog’s burial  in his apple orchard. The idea became so popular, that Johnson eventually dedicated three acres of his land as a graveyard.

Johnson invited people to bring their deceased pets to his office on Manhattan’s 25th Street, where they could purchase a zinc-lined casket. Then they would travel 25 miles by train to the quiet village of Hartsdale in Westchester County, where Johnson’s apple orchard was filling with monuments and flower arrangements.

Hartsdale postcard

Vintage postcard of Hartsdale Dog Cemetery, circa 1927

In the early days, pet owners cared for their own cemetery plots, enclosing them with wrought-iron fences and adorning them with sculptures. When they died, moved away, or lost interest, the plots became dilapidated. That led to the incorporation of the cemetery. A full-time caretaker moved into a cottage on the property.

Monuments range from standard headstones to portrait sculptures, stone doghouses and cat baskets, and much more. The oldest surviving monument dates to 1899. It remembers Dotty, fourteen-year-old pet of E. M. Dodge.

Animals buried in Hartsdale Pet Cemetery vary from cats and dogs to horses, monkeys, rabbits, guinea pigs, goldfish, iguanas, snakes,and parakeets. One of the most exotic animals in the cemetery is a lion named Goldfleck. Princess Lwoff Parlaghy was a Hungarian artist who bought the lion cub from Ringling Brothers Circus and took him to live with her at the Plaza Hotel. After his death, he received a wake at the hotel and was buried in Hartsdale in 1912.

During World War I, thousands of dogs were trained to find wounded soldiers. The service dogs were given a monument at Hartsdale: a ten-ton boulder of granite from Barre, Vermont, topped with a bronze statue of a kerchief-wearing dog with a dented helmet at his feet. The cost of the monument was raised by donations. Police, fire, and weapons detection dogs are also buried at the cemetery. Among them are dogs who retrieved bodies after the Oklahoma City Bombing and one who worked in the World Trade Center ruins.

Although the practice of interring humans and animals together is illegal, more that 700 pet owners have chosen to have their ashes interred with their animal companions. Several of them shares gravestones with their pets.

Useful links:

Hartsdale’s website: www.petcem.com

On Atlas Obscura: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/hartsdale-pet-cemetery

On Quigley’s Cabinent: http://quigleyscabinet.blogspot.com/2012/09/pet-placement.html

My review of the Hartsdale book: https://cemeterytravel.com/2017/04/01/a-guide-to-americas-first-pet-cemetery/

My review of Permanent New Yorkers

Another resource for grieving pet owners: https://cemeterytravel.com/2017/04/03/resource-for-a-grieving-pet-owner/


Resource for a Grieving Pet Owner

Good-bye My Friend: Pet Cemeteries, Memorials, and Other Ways to Remember. A collection of Thoughts, Feelings, and ResourcesGood-bye My Friend: Pet Cemeteries, Memorials, and Other Ways to Remember. A collection of Thoughts, Feelings, and Resources by Michele Lanci-Altomare

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have to admit, I am skeptical about books about losing your pets. Having been too often subjected to “The Rainbow Bridge,” I know how quickly sentiment about pets can trigger a gag reflex. That the first edition of this book had a pastel collage of animal grave markers on its cover, along with a shockingly red sticker that proclaims it “A Lasting Gift for Anyone Who Loves Animals,” might be enough to scare away the heartiest morbid reader. That has been corrected in this edition.

Inside are 100 Polaroid transfer photographs that document pet cemeteries from London to San Diego. Lanci-Altomare, who has done solo shows of her photographs at Dark Delicacies in Burbank, has an eye for beauty, true emotion, and humor. The Polaroid transfer process gives the photos a light-struck, grainy quality reminiscent of the photo plaques washed by the sun that you find on headstones. The effect serves her subject very well.

A minor quibble is the design of the book. Rather than group the photos by graveyard—so that the reader could get a sense of place—photos of the same graveyards rise again and again, sort of like a refrain. I found it frustrating.

How’s the text? Let me give you some context. When I originally read the book, my companion of 14 years was gravely ill with bladder stones. I dragged him to the vet time and again, each time certain that he wouldn’t survive to be brought home. I passed through all the Kübler-Ross stages in preparation of putting him to sleep when the vet performed a miracle. For all my cynicism, I know how painful it is to face the death of someone with whom you’ve lived so long.

The text is very good. It ranges from historical notes about (too few) graveyards to newspaper articles about the police dogs who located bodies after the Oklahoma Federal Building bombing into explanations from cemetery owners about how and why they do their jobs. I particularly liked the piece from the Humane Society that explains how visits to the pet cemetery keep volunteers sane as they work with abandoned animals. Other highlights were stories about the cat who eased a terminally ill boy into death and the dog who greeted mourners at the pet cemetery where he worked. There’s a smattering of poetry, but it can be easily bypassed.

This is a nice little book on a topic that hasn’t been explored.

You can get your own copy on Amazon.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

A Guide to America’s First Pet Cemetery

The Peaceable Kingdom in Hartsdale - America's First Pet CemeteryThe Peaceable Kingdom in Hartsdale – America’s First Pet Cemetery by Edward C. Martin III

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sharing the name of the centennial book about the first pet cemetery in America might have seemed clever, but it’s actually confusing. I thought I was buying an updated version of the older book, but got a new book with the same title. Which means I still need to track the older book down.

This book is well illustrated with lots of black & white photos of the pet cemetery and its people. The captions repeat the text, which I found mildly frustrating since it’s such a slim volume.

All in all, I’m glad to add this book to my collection, but I may let it go when I succeed in finally tracking down the original book. I wonder why they didn’t simply reprint, since the author of this volume is an longtime employee of the pet cemetery.

Get your own copy on Amazon.

The original book is also available on Amazon: The Peaceable Kingdom in Hartsdale: A Celebration of Pets and their People.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.