The next statue in our history tour, is of the indomitable P. Eckel.
Now largely forgotten — but in the final decades of the 19th century, he was known to every resident of this city.
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.
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.