Morris & Essex Reborn


This article was originally printed in Dogs in Review, December 2000. It has been edited and updated to include the 2005 event.

The year was 1927 and Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge was hosting the first Morris & Essex Kennel Club show. It was clear from the start that this would be no ordinary event: Mrs. Dodge was no ordinary woman, and anything she did was accomplished on a grand scale. Her vast Giralda Farms in Madison, New Jersey already housed at least a hundred of the country’s best show dogs, and as a member of one of America’s wealthiest families Mrs. Dodge could afford to put on exactly the kind of show she dreamed of, on her own magnificent home grounds, without much regard for the usual compromises necessitated by limited funds and shared power that affect most of us.

Rarely has there been a more glorious example of what enlightened autocracy can accomplish in the dog world than the Morris & Essex Dog Show. Over the next few decades Mrs. Dodge’s firm leadership made the show an annual event, the likes of which had never been seen before. It would become, quite literally, the talk of the dog show world, reaching a peak in 1939 with a world record entry of 4,456 dogs — bigger than even Crufts in London that year. This entry figure remained unchallenged in the U.S. until well into the 1980s and has only been matched on a handful of occasions here since then. (Even the AKC/Eukanuba show in 2009, which celebrated AKC’s 125th anniversary, “only” had a total of 3,918 dogs entered.)

What made Morris & Essex so unique? Much has been said about the vast lawns, rolled to billiard table perfection; the tents, the flowers, the garden party atmosphere, the stunning trophies and the boxed lunch provided for all exhibitors, with white-gloved waiters serving the judges’ and officials’ meals on fine china with linen napkins. All this was important, but if that had been all, Morris & Essex would have been just another glamorous social event.

What set M&EKC apart was the fact that the social niceties were linked to Mrs. Dodge’s deep conviction that dog shows should be put on for the benefit of exhibitors and breeders wishing to showcase their stock for their peers under a judge qualified to offer an expert opinion: a sporting event where the pursuit of breeding better dogs was in focus. This may sound self-evident, but it was not the case then and is even less so now: the hand-picked judges, almost invariably breed specialists and often from abroad, who officiated at Morris & Essex were people of such stature that you would want to show under them even if you didn’t necessarily expect to win.

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