For the first twenty-four years of my life, I lived less than two miles from the one of the oldest pet cemeteries in the United States. During those years, I never visited it, although I would occasionally hear stories about it. People would say that J. Edgar Hoover’s dogs were buried there as well as the dog “Petey” from the Our Gang movies.
I finally visited Aspin Hill Memorial Park in 2012, lured there by a geocache with the cryptic title “General Grant’s Tomb?” As I walked the through the tall, unmown grass of the decaying cemetery, I saw thousands of grave stones for beloved pets with names like “Gumbo” and “Weenie” and “The Raggedy Man.” I felt like I had stumbled onto a magical place celebrating the bond between humans and their pets. It wasn’t just the sweet names that got to me; it was the outpouring of heartfelt emotion in the inscriptions, such as this one:
BINGO 1934-1940 BOSTON TERRIER BEAUTIFUL MALE DARK BRINDLE WITH WHITE MARKINGS HE GAVE LOYALTY LOVE AND FAITH THAT WAS MINE UNTIL DEATH
Sometimes, the inscriptions were specific enough that I suspected with a little research, I could find the stories behind these stones. One of them read, “Mack – Famous Seeing Eye Dog of George Ramey.” Another one read “Pal – He Preferred Death To Life Away From His Master,” then gave the master’s name. Yet another lauded a horse named Tipperary Mary as a “Great Jumper.”
The GPS coordinates for the geocache brought me to the gravestone of General Grant of R.K.O. While solving the puzzle that would enable me to earn a point on my geocaching profile, I learned that this was the burial site of the dog that people were saying had been Petey from Our Gang. Wait a minute, I thought. The photo medallion on the grave stone was that of an English bulldog who looked nothing like any of the three dogs who played Petey in the movies. They were all American pit bull terriers.
I left the pet cemetery that day vowing to come back and learn more about the stories that were buried within the eight-acre property. I was intrigued by the possibility that I could learn more about the nature of the relationships between these pets and their obviously devoted owners. There was so much I wanted to know.
Why was Mack the Seeing Eye dog so famous?
Why couldn’t Pal bear his existence once his owner died?
How great a jumper was Tipperary Mary?
Who was buried in Grant’s Tomb?
The answers to these and other questions will be the subjects of future posts on this blog.