Alternate History, Dogs, hiking, History, humor, NY, Public Art, Sculpture, statue, Upstate New York

Learning All About History By Looking At Statues. Chapter IV. “P. Eckel & the Perils of the Pavement”


The next statue in our history tour, is of the indomitable Captain P. Eckel.

Now largely forgotten — but in the final decades of the 19th century, he was known to every resident of this city, and to kennel clubs around the nation.

A quintessential Victorian reformer, and, I am obliged to point out, a figure attracting considerable controversy.



Had he remained satisfied with his campaign to create a dog park in every neighborhood, he would, to a certainty, be better represented in the annals of American history.



His inaugural Canine Green (1876) was opened with considerable fanfare, and proved an instant success.  As reported in the Post:

   “Dog fanciers, sportsmen, and courting couples have flocked to the park.  The upper crust rubs elbows with the humbler sort, those who must toil to earn their daily crust,  and the Social Register’s pureblood hounds mix in perfect cordiality and democracy with their less-distinguished mongrel cousins…”



Based on its popularity, Eckel was appointed the city’s first Dog Warden — considered a rising political star, being groomed to run for mayor.



Eckel believed there were no bad dogs, only dogs hadn’t been properly instructed on the proper locations to relieve themselves.  His philosophy was embraced by adherents of the Aesthetic Movement, the Domestic Animal Welfare Reform societies, and all those grounded in the essential Victorian faith in Doing Your Business.



But his single-minded resolve to place his Patented Canine Sanitary Stanchions, on every street corner, without the blessing of the city council, cost him his job, and extinguished his dog park crusade.


The Eckel Monument today. The stanchions on the corners proved a bone of contention


Careful study of the Sanitary Stanchions (seen surrounding his statue in the picture above) reveals to the observant, one of the issues with his invention.

Because they so closely resembled hydrants, the fire brigades were constantly attempting to hook hoses to them.



When, as the result of this confusion, the city morgue burned to the ground, with tremendous loss of bodies, if not lives, the city fathers had had enough, and his political opponents unleashed their resentment.

Eckel, who only wanted to provide hygienic relief, was relieved of his position.  Hounded from office,  and every one of his stanchions was dismantled and destroyed.



But P. Eckel was not someone to roll over for a pack of ward heelers,  or sit idle, or take this lying down.

In his self-designed uniform, he continued to stride along the thoroughfares, up the town and down, six days a week, shouting through his speaking trumpet at miscreant curs befouling the footpath, and sometimes their dogs, too, but sadly, without the authority to collar wrong-doers.



Reading through his voluminous papers, laid down in the archives of the Eastminster Kennel Club, he comes across as well-meaning, but somewhat monomaniacal.



It’s sad to see this forgotten figure, in a park that no longer allows dog-walking.

Carved in stone, his features weathered by a century of rain, he stands forgotten, passed like water through our collective memory.



One supposes, that when this says “as supplied to Her Majesty the Queen,” they mean, for the use of her pets.




24 thoughts on “Learning All About History By Looking At Statues. Chapter IV. “P. Eckel & the Perils of the Pavement”

  1. P.S. and hello again –

    Ok, I’m adding a comment to my own post, because I wanted to add a serious note.

    I saw this statue one day, in Syracuse, NY, didn’t know who this was, but was struck by the monument’s stone fire hydrants, and made up this silly story.

    I then looked him up, and found he was a genuine hero.

    An immigrant in the 1840’s from the Rhineland-Pfalz region, Philip Eckel served in a fire company in Syracuse, formed by his fellow German-Americans.

    During the Civil War, as a lieutenant in the 149th NY Volunteer Infantry, he was wounded at Chancellorsville.

    In 1886, having risen to become the city’s Fire Chief, he was killed on his way to a fire — thrown from his horse-drawn fire engine, as it raced over some railroad tracks.

    His statue has been moved twice, but is now in a Firefighters Memorial Park, in the old part of town.  This small city has lost four dozen firefighters over the years, and I am happy to see a park and monuments commemorating these brave folks.

    • pinklightsabre says:

      This is so strange in like the best, most original way. But I have to say, I hope Ross stops by. Because I like the way you incorporate pictures and think he might, too. And funny, we’re not far from “Rhineland-Pfalz” right now. I love saying Pfalz. It’s phat.

  2. Ha! I found the reason those sanitary stanchions so resemble fire hydrants! What a creative re-working of historical fact, my friend. You clearly are qualified to move right into the upper echelons of governmental service, where you could provide alternative histories to anyone who needed them. I was going to say you could provide them for a reasonable fee, but let me revise that: they’d probably pay an exorbitant fee, given the need for alternative facts these days. 🙂

    I really did enjoy this. I laughed out loud at “When, as the result of this confusion, the city morgue burned to the ground, with tremendous loss of bodies, if not lives…” That’s great.

  3. OK, you had me! I can be a gullible sort, and I DID wonder, really I did, but it took googling the guy to set me right. I hadn’t scrolled down to see your note. Fabulous job, Robert! So many clever canine references in there! Beautifully illustrated, too.

    • I was kind of believing it myself, by the time I was done writing. I wasn’t going to tell the real story, but when I read about the guy, it seemed like he deserved it.
      Yeah, aren’t those old dog biscuit ads great?! 🙂 They’re real, and just great. Although I don’t know how many dogs would like beets.

  4. You had me for a minute there Robert … until the canine sanitary stations! Lovely story though. I was getting quite attached to Mr. Eckel. Over here in Belgium we have our own canine saviour: Monsieur Satian, who was the worldwide inventor of the Stray Dog’s Home. This was way back in the 1930s, but his idea never really caught on until after the Second World War. He was actually the inspiration for Paul Simon’s song, You Can Call Me Al.

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