Elegance, Glamour, Box Lunches and the World’s Finest Show Dogs

“To reach a high standard of perfection requires painstaking effort. And once that standard has been established, it becomes increasingly difficult to raise it, periodically, to even higher planes. Yet such a thing has been happening, yearly, with the great Morris and Essex Kennel Club Show.”

 

By Debra Lampert-Rudman

 

The quote above may have been penned by Arthur Frederick Jones in the July 1, 1937 edition of the American Kennel Gazette, but is equally true of the Morris & Essex Kennel Club show set for Thursday, October 20, 2020, at Colonial Park in Somerset, New Jersey.

 

Every five years, starting in 2000, the elegance, glamour, style and high level of judging quality of Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge’s original dog show held on her polo fields is brought back to life for a new generation. In its 1937 heyday, more than 50,000 dog-loving spectators descended upon sleepy Madison, New Jersey, and 4,104 dogs were shown. In the show's 2005 incarnation, a total entry of 3,619 dogs were presented in 160 different breeds or varieties, with Ch. Rocky Tops Sundance Kid “Rufus” garnering Best in Show honors. In 2015, the last time the Morris and Essex show was held, more than 4,150 entries of the world’s finest show dogs competed for the lofty title of Best in Show, with proceeds benefiting various canine charities.

 

“The Dog Fancier of the Century”

 

Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, daughter of William Rockefeller and niece of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. was born into a privileged life during America’s “Gilded Age.” Geraldine grew up with a strong love of dogs, art, and a spirit of philanthropy. On April 18, 1907, Geraldine married Marcellus Hartley Dodge, and the couple was regarded as the richest young couple in America.

 

Mrs. Dodge's interest in dog breeding led her to create Giralda Farms Kennels in Madison, New Jersey, known both nationally and internationally as the home of the finest German Shepherds, Pointers and English Cocker Spaniels. In fact, Mrs. Dodge is credited as the architect of the separation of the breeds now known as the American and English cocker spaniels. Between 1937 and 1942, the English cocker spaniel became her most successful breed. And, in 1942, she published a book entitled The English Cocker Spaniel in America.

 

Giralda Farms covered almost four acres and housed up to 150 dogs in palatial facilities with several resident kennel men. More than 200 Giralda Farms dogs were Best in Show winners, leading Mrs. Dodge to be known as the “first lady of dogdom” and “the dog fancier of the century.” In 1933, Mrs. M. Hartley Dodge became the first woman to officiate at the Westminster Kennel Club as the sole Best In Show judge at its illustrious dog show.

 

Mrs. Dodge founded the Morris & Essex Kennel Club in 1927, naming it after the two New Jersey counties from which its committed organizers and kennel club members hailed. Her grand outdoor dog shows held on her estate were highlights of not only the dog show world but the New York social world from 1927 until 1957. Women and men dressed to the “nines,” and it was the place to be seen.

 

The M&E Revival

 

In 1996, Wayne Ferguson, Cherrybrook founder and well-known dog-world philanthropist, discovered the Morris & Essex Kennel Club archives while attending a board meeting at St. Hubert’s Giralda. Mr. Ferguson was so enchanted by the magic of the 30-year reign of Mrs. Dodge’s show that he gathered a group of the 21st Century’s “Who’s Who” in dogs to revive the elegance of the bygone era. Four years later, the first M&E show was held near the grounds of the original show.

 

Thanks largely to Club President and Show Committee Chairman Wayne Ferguson’s endeavors, and those of a remarkable and highly skilled show committee, including Connie Butherus, David Helming and many others, every five years Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge’s legendary dog show once again springs to life.

 

In the years between shows, elaborate plans are made, show-site drawings are debated, and grass is painstakingly treated and tended to assure perfection on show day. On the 2020 dog-show scene, Morris & Essex will be the place to be seen, with many people planning their wardrobes – especially hats – well in advance!

 

The outdoor show features huge Renaissance tents flying the club’s orange and navy blue banners as well as 30 rings with 80 of the American Kennel Club’s finest breed judges. More than 100 breeds will hold national, regional and statewide specialties, and supported entries. As was tradition during Mrs. Dodge’s era, entries and judges are expected from around the world. Only conformation judging will be held, as was customary in Mrs. Dodge’s time as well.

 

The show's sterling-silver trophy display is like none seen at any other outdoor dog show and includes many very special historical pieces. In fact, the 2015 premium list was believed to be the largest ever printed, with hundreds of  pages to include the array of trophies, prizes and programs.

 

A classic-car display featuring stunning models from the 1930s along with  a dazzling array of club and show treasures and historical archives round off this one-of-a-kind dog-show experience.

 

Hospitality and gentility are two of the many features distinguishing Morris & Essex from other outdoor shows. Picture elaborate flower displays, and specially designed raised platforms for Group winners; imagine an outdoor dog show with no generators or noise, but for the chirping of birds and the voice of the announcer. The Morris & Essex Committee accords tens of thousands of dollars for specially designed underground wiring to eliminate noise and excessive heat from blow dryers, fans and other equipment .

 

At precisely noon, a lunch bell is rung, and all judging stops. Exhibitors are each presented with a scrumptious and beautifully designed “box lunch,” included as part of the entry fee. During lunch hour, everyone dines; in the judge’s tent, live classical music is played, linen and fine china displayed.

 

All spectators are invited to purchase delicious food and other items from an array of caterers and upscale vendors. Limited-edition collectible commemorative memorabilia may be purchased in the catalog tent. Various charitable organizations, including Take the Lead, host of an exhibitor breakfast in the morning and a fundraising silent auction throughout the day.

 

Every five years, a very special dog show appears, and we are transported to a gentler time, honoring one of the dog-show world’s most devoted benefactors and the show’s founder, Mrs. Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge.

 

A German Shepherd aficionado, Mrs. Dodge poses here with Rin Tin Tin.

Morris & Essex president and show chair Wayne Ferguson in 2005.

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