The History of Mrs. Dodge's Morris & Essex Kennel Club Dog Show

Quotes from past Kennel Review and Dogs in Review magazines illuminate the rich history of the Morris & Essex Kennel Club dog show.

By Bo Bengtson | Posted: September 29, 2014 1 p.m. PST

Morris & Essex
Morris & Essex — "America's Greatest Dog Show." Some writers were careful to emphasize that it was the greatest outdoor show to avoid comparisons with Westminster. Photo courtesy Bo Bengtson.

Everyone who is interested in dog shows should mark the date of October 1, 2015, for a visit to the famous Morris & Essex Kennel Club show. It takes place only once every five years, so if you miss next year’s event, you will have to wait until 2020 for another chance to attend.

This truly is a unique event. It was initially sponsored by one of America’s wealthiest women, who was also a great dog lover. Mrs. Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge began hosting an annual, open-air dog show on her vast property, Giralda Farms, in Madison, N.J., in 1927. The show that year received 595 entries, but by 1935 there were 3,175, and the last three shows, pre-World War II, all had close to or more than 4,000 dogs entered. The 1939 total of 4,456 dogs makes that year’s Morris & Essex Kennel Club show one of the largest dog shows ever held in the US.

The show was not held 1942-1945. The first post-war show in 1946 had just over 2,000 dogs entered and gradually worked its way up to more than 2,500 dogs, in spite of the fact that it was often not open to all breeds. The last of the "old” Morris & Essex shows, held in 1957, had 2,548 dogs. After that year, reportedly due to a disagreement with AKC about the show’s date, Mrs. Dodge did not sponsor any more dog shows.

For many years the memory of Morris & Essex lay dormant. In 2000 the show rose again, "like a phoenix from the ashes” — to quote David Merriam — courtesy of a small group of fanciers led by Wayne Ferguson, who has remained the primary force behind the show. This is too large a project to be organized annually: Each of the three "modern” Morris & Essex KC shows in 2000, 2005 and 2010 has had in excess of 3,000 dogs entered, in spite of the fact that the show is held on a Thursday — although it does not hurt that the Montgomery County Terrier classic is held the same weekend.

Following are some comments from Kennel Review and Dogs in Review on past shows, admittedly not all held in October. We are making a deliberate exception to announce what will happen in October next year.

 

1934

"Morris & Essex is the world’s largest and greatest open-air show, with an entry this year of 2,827 dogs. It takes the lead over all dog shows held in this country, and the beauty and magnificence of this show in its setting, its every appointment and its punctilious management, are beyond that of any other fixture in the world.” — Caroline Colter Cherry, Kennel Review

 

1935

"Absolutely the greatest and by far the very best dog show ever assembled in any clime, was the ninth annual event of the Morris & Essex Kennel Club, held on the beautiful and most suitable Giralda estate owned by that whole-souled sportswoman — one truly most worthy of the distinction — Mrs. Marcellus Hartley Dodge.

"Imagine a bona fide entry of 3,174 dogs, 47 perfect rings, six groups and the Grand Championship judged and duly recorded all within eight hours, over 35,000 persons present, over 9,000 motor cars on the grounds, nearly 10,000 persons entertained at a most luscious luncheon, and all without a single hitch. Such was the unique record established at Giralda that will live long in doggy history.” — H. G. Heath, Kennel Review

 

1936

"The show this year was the largest dog show ever held in America and the second largest in the world. In one sense, however, the Morris & Essex entry is a world record because never has there been a one-day show nor one held in the open air which even closely approached the figure set by Morris & Essex. At the show there were 3,751 entries of 83 different varieties or breeds of dogs and the various dogs all showing at the same time in 50 rings with 50 judges, etc. On the polo [field] where the show was held, more than 45,000 people gathered, and parked on the grounds were 16,000 automobiles. This gives one some idea of the magnitude of this show. The weather was ideal, almost a California atmosphere, and this being a social event as well, the colorful costumes of the ladies lent a panoramic view almost kaleidoscopic; one was awed and thrilled at the same time.” — Harry G. Marxmiller, M. D., Kennel Review  

 

1937

"The American dog fancy showed its sincere thanks and appreciation to the ‘Gracious Lady of Giralda,’ Mrs. M. Hartley Dodge, by responding with a record entry of 4,104 dogs at her 11th annual Morris & Essex show, making this event the largest ever held in this country, and the greatest outdoor show ever held in the world. Over 50,000 persons attended, and by noon over 7,000 cars had been admitted to the parking space.

"The final event — Best in Show — was a culmination of a full day of brilliant competition and splendid judging. When Dr. Samuel Milbank gave the award to Ch. Sturdy Max, the English Setter owned by the Maridor Kennels, the thousands upon thousands of spectators cheered wildly, which is, after all, the way a dog show should end. Ch. Sturdy Max is not a newcomer to the bench show, having been awarded Best in Show 18 times and 40 times best Sporting dog.” — Bert Heath, Kennel Review

 

1938

"Thirty-one specialty clubs have designated the regular classes at Madison as their specialty. Two of them, the Dachshunds and the Doberman Pinschers, will be judged by German experts who want time to give their opinion of each dog entered, and have arranged to have their breed judged on Friday as well as Saturday...

"In addition to the prestige that dogs win by placing at Morris & Essex, there is, as usual, the more tangible rewards to be gained from the division of the Morris & Essex purse of over $20,000 and the distribution of 390 sterling silver trophies...

"No other show offers such a brilliant array of sterling silver trophies to be won outright ... No other show has the same convenient facilities for parking in an area adjacent to the tent where your dogs are benched. No other show has such complete transportation service from the railroad station to the show grounds if you ship your dogs by rail, and, of course, it is free. The great dining tent where every exhibitor is the guest of Mrs. Dodge at luncheon is still another feature that further makes this the ‘Exhibitor’s Show.’” — Kennel Review      

 

Ch. Nornay Saddler
One of the most famous dogs wto win Morris & Essex, the Smooth Fox Terrier Ch. Nornay Saddler, with owner-handler James Austin, judge Enno Meyer and Mrs. Dodge after BIS in 1941. Photo courtesy Bo Bengtson.

1939

"A glowing tribute from the American dog fancy to Mrs. Dodge — in the form of 4,456 dogs entered at this year’s Madison event. This mark eclipses Crufts’ highest figure, and without any doubt establishes Morris & Essex as the world’s greatest dog show.” — Bert Heath, Kennel Review

 

1946

"The show was back [after not being held during WWII] in all its old-time grandeur, including spacious tents, refreshment stands, crowds milling around the grounds. The orange-and-blue color motif was evident everywhere, umbrellas for the judges when not working, beautiful silver trophies — in other words, it was the old M&E back again, as no one else but Mrs. Dodge ... can do it.” — Harry Sangster, Kennel Review

 

1950

"A beautifully plumed and showy Irish Setter, Ch. Tyronne Farm Clancy — bred, owned and shown by Jack Spear of Tipton, Iowa — became the dog of the moment when he captured the best in the annual fixture of the Morris & Essex Kennel Club, the greatest and most colorful of outdoor shows.

"‘Clancy’ unquestionably was an eager contender. Possibly he realized that he almost had been the dog that wasn’t there and wanted to make up for it ... Mr. Spear had flown him from Tipton into Chicago in his own plane but then switched to regular airlines for the longer cross-country hop. He arrived in Newark Saturday morning to find the dog had landed at La Guardia. When he got over there by taxi he learned that Clancy had been flown over to Newark. Back to Newark he dashed, found the dog and managed to reach Madison only after the show had started, although before Clancy was due in the ring.” — Arthur Roland, Kennel Review

 

Ch. Rock Falls Colonel
English Setter Ch. Rock Falls Colonel, owner-handled by William T. Holt, won BIS at M&E in 1951. Photo Shafer.

1951

"More than 20,000 dog enthusiasts saw Ch. Rock Falls Colonel, a gorgeous orange belton English Setter, take Best in Show honors at the famous Morris & Essex Kennel Club show at the Giralda Farms estate of Mr. and Mrs. M. Hartley Dodge. He triumphed over an entry of 2,672 dogs in 53 breeds...

"There was no provision for Best American-Bred judging, which up to now has been made following the Best in Show competition when foreign dogs were top winners. Mrs. Dodge and her committee decided that best American-Bred was an anti-climax, and the award was abolished.
"The showgrounds, which were larger than ever, made a beautiful picture. Thirty-eight rings were laid out in the center of the field, and each ring had a judge’s table, which was protected from the sun by a huge orange umbrella. Blue and gold Giralda banners fluttered from posts at the ring corners to add a real carnival atmosphere ... The five large parking sections were filled to overflowing, and it was necessary to park many cars on the roads leading into the showgrounds. It was estimated that 15,000 cars were on the grounds...

"As usual, Morris & Essex was preceded by several specialties and followed by the all-breed show of the Plainfield Kennel Club ... Giralda had its usual ‘Dodge Luck,’ having a beautiful sunny day, despite the previous week’s rain. Plainfield once again was a veritable deluge.” — Bert Heath, Kennel Review

 

1952

"Best in the 25th anniversary Morris & Essex Kennel Club show was Mrs. Leonard Smit’s Ch. Wyretex Wyns Traveller Of Trucote. The choice that put the [Wire Fox] Terrier on the pinnacle of an event that drew 2,851 dogs was made by a silver-haired judge of many years’ experience, George Steadman Thomas of Camarillo, Calif.

"Before Best in Show was judged, Mrs. M. Hartley Dodge received the 1951 trophy from the Quaker Oats Company as ‘a truly remarkable fancier who has served the sport in practically all its phases over a considerable period of time...’

"International amity in a dog show was displayed in the Lhasa Apso breed judging. Harry Lumb named Mr. and Mrs. C. S. Cutting’s Pehma as best of breed. The breeder happens to be the Dalai Lama of Tibet, original country of the rare breed.” — Bert Heath, Kennel Review 

 

Ch. Baroque Of Quality Hill
Boxer Ch. Baroque Of Quality Hill, BIS at Morris & Essex in 1955, handled by Phil Marsh. With Mrs. Dodge is judge Edward McQuown. Photo courtesy Bo Bengtson.

1955

"Champion Baroque of Quality Hill, a magnificent fawn Boxer, owned by Jack and Mazie Wagner, Mazelaine Kennels, San Antonio, Texas, became the first Boxer to gain top honors at the world-famous Morris & Essex show. ‘Baroque,’ not yet 2 years old, a daughter of the illustrious Ch. Bang Away Of Sirrah Crest ... topped a [breed] entry of 99 ... and [won] the Best in Show award under the noted all-rounder Edward McQuown...

"When you consider this show was held in the middle of the week, the entry of 2,397 [reflects] the high esteem and prestige ‘The Exhibitor’s Show’ is held by the American dog fancy. There are no commercial booths advertising dog foods or equipment and no program advertisements. You can eat, drink and look at the dogs. Some of the experts insisted this event could not be done on a weekday, but [it] was bigger and better than ever.” — Bert Heath, Kennel Review

 

1957

"The important news this month is that Morris & Essex Kennel Club have decided to suspend their 1958 show. This is indeed a loss to the fancy. Many of our Western fanciers looked forward to Mrs. Dodge’s annual summer event, which has indeed been, ‘The Exhibitor’s Show.’ It has been a landmark, or should I say an institution, in American dogdom, and we seriously hope that Mrs. Dodge and Mr. Patterson will again present to the fancy in 1959, America’s outstanding outdoor event — the Morris & Essex Show.” — Kennel Review

There was, in fact, no further Morris & Essex KC show until 2000.

 

2000

Ch. Torum's Scarf Michael
The first "modern" M&E winner was Kerry Blue Terrier Eng. Ch. Torum's Scarf Michael. This was his first of more than 100 US BIS after a stellar career in his native Great Britain. Photo Ashbey.

"To dog fanciers of a certain age, the mention of ‘Morris & Essex’ gets an immediate response, one far more joyous and excited than produced by mere nostalgia for the good old days as they recall exhibiting at the legendary Morris & Essex shows ... The year 2000 will see the re-creation of the Morris & Essex show ... Unlike the original yearly show, the new Morris & Essex show will be held only every five years...
"What made Morris & Essex great, and the reason it is recalled so fondly, were Mrs. Dodge’s standards of unparalleled excellence. She was driven to make everything as perfect as possible for the dogs, committed breeders and dog lovers. In fact, the show was widely known as the ‘Exhibitor’s Show.’ The present Show Committee is likewise committed to offer to dogs, entrants and spectators a show whose hallmarks of comfort, elegance and style will set the highest standard for dog shows.” — Dr. Duane Butherus, Dogs in Review

 

2001

"Morris & Essex. What can one say? It has an indelible imprint on the history of our sport. The 2000 show? Its re-creation was inspired, its planning was meticulous, and its execution was without flaw. Defying the weather gods, the show enjoyed a cool and overcast day ... The spectacular and soaring white tents surpassed even what Mrs. Dodge provided. Held on the grounds of the old Giralda Farms, this show was a huge success. With an entry of 3,200 on a Thursday, the show had the ambiance and attitude of what all our shows aim for ... A big bouquet to Wayne Ferguson for his leadership.” — David C. Merriam, Chairman, AKC Board, Dogs in Review

 

2005

"You may understand with what great anticipation many serious dog fanciers were looking forward to the 2005 Morris & Essex KC show. It was again held on the Thursday of the Montgomery weekend, had an impressive record of almost 3,200 dogs and found a new home at the beautiful Colonial Park in Somerset, N.J. I am sure that Mrs. Dodge would have approved of the venue: rolling green lawns, trees and streams as far as the eye could see, the mile-long drive from the gate, lined with banners in Morris & Essex’s logo and colors (orange and black)...

"We need more shows like this one; we need it more than once every five years.” — Bo Bengtson, Dogs in Review

 

2010

"The big question before the 2010 event was, of course, if the entry figures would hold ... The economy is still in the doldrums, entries are falling ... The answer was, of course, a resounding YES: a total of 3,090 dogs ... This was, in fact, one of the year’s biggest dog shows in America.
"One cannot help but wonder how many more dogs would have been entered if it had been possible to allow this great event to take place on a Saturday or Sunday, as it of course ought to be...

"Seldom has any show had a more impressive [Best in Show] line-up — even, if I may hazard a guess, the past Morris & Essex shows. When the judge [Mr. Robert Forsyth] finally signed his book, grabbed the huge ribbon and walked into the middle of the ring ... the ringside was tense with excitement. A finger pointed, and the winner was the Pekingese [Ch. Palacegarden Malachy]!

"It was a worthy ending to a great show. Mrs. Dodge would, I think, have been pleased. If only we didn’t have to wait another five years for the next Morris & Essex Kennel Club show.” — Bo Bengtson, Dogs in Review

 

From the October 2014 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine, or call 1-888-738-2665 to purchase a single copy.

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Give us your opinion Give us your opinion on The History of Mrs. Dodge's Morris & Essex Kennel Club Dog Show

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Melian and Tiny   Etna, CA

11/1/2014 11:51:12 PM

Fascinating!

I would love to see the article online here about the Saluki National. Please?

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