One of the most frequently repeated stories about Aspin Hill Memorial Park is that Petey from the Our Gang movies is buried there. As evidence, newspaper articles about the cemetery in Aspen Hill, Maryland point to the grave of General Grant of R.K.O., whose nickname was Jiggs.
When I visited General Grant of R.K.O.’s grave in 2012, I found a gravestone with a photo of a bulldog on it. That was my first clue that something was amiss. I knew already that all of the dogs who played Petey (there were three of them) were American pit bull terriers. I’ve never seen a bulldog in an Our Gang movie, nor were any of the dogs named Jiggs or General Grant.
The Myth of Petey
Where did the myth of Petey being buried at Aspin Hill Memorial Park begin? It’s hard to say, but I think it may have been because General Grant’s name included the words “of R.K.O.” People may have assumed he was a movie actor, then made the illogical leap that he must have been Petey.
Here’s the second clue that General Grant was not Petey: the Hollywood movie studio RKO Pictures had nothing to do with the Our Gang movies (or the later television revival called The Little Rascals). These were all produced by the Hal Roach Studios and distributed at first by Pathé, and later by MGM — but never by RKO.
Who was General Grant of R.K.O.?
I consulted the American Kennel Club (AKC) stud books to see what I could find out about General Grant of R.K.O. He was registered in 1930 as an English bulldog by S. Almond, who ran the R.K.O. Kennel near Los Angeles, California. When a dog is given its official AKC registered name, it is common to include the kennel’s name. S. Almond bred many dogs, including Draftsman of R.K.O., Dominion of R.K.O., and Duchess of R.K.O. I could find no direction connection between R.K.O. Kennel and the movie studio, RKO Pictures.
General Grant of R.K.O. had his own brush with fame, however. According to an item in Dog Fancier, he was sent to President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, at his estate in New York. Although the article gushed about an English bulldog being in the White House, it doesn’t appear that General Grant (the dog) was ever a resident there.
Across the top of the General Grant’s gravestone is the name FORBUSH. A little research proved that the Forbushes, Arthur and Gabrielle, were experts on the English bulldog and published books about raising them. In addition, Gabrielle Forbush was a contributor to another book which she co-authored with — wait for it — Franklin D. Roosevelt’s mother (My Boy Franklin). This book was published the same year that General Grant of R.K.O. was shipped to the Roosevelt home.
It seems possible that Gabrielle Forbush either bought the dog from the Roosevelts, or received him as a gift. I know for sure that by 1937, General Grant of R.K.O. was living in Washington, D.C. with the Forbushes, judging from a classified ad in the Evening Star newspaper offering his services as a stud dog. I never found an article contemporary with his life (despite hours of searching) that claimed he’d ever been in the movies.
Surely the original owners of the Aspin Hill cemetery, Richard and Bertha Birney, would have known where General Grant came from when they buried him. They never claimed he was Petey. The earliest mention I could find of Petey being buried at Aspin Hill was in a newspaper article published in the Montgomery Sentinel on September 2, 1965, long after the Birneys’ deaths in 1944.
General Grant of R.K.O. died in 1938. He may not have been a movie star, but he led an interesting and pampered life just the same. And his burial in Aspin Hill Memorial Park is evidence that he was well-loved.
Inscription: GENERAL GRANT 0F R.K.O. JIGGS JULY 19, 1928 MARCH 22, 1938 Location: Aspin Hill Memorial Park N 39° 04.753 W 077° 04.615
Lee, Julia Sun-Joo. Our Gang: A Racial History of The Little Rascals. Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 2015.
Villecco, Tony. Silent Stars Speak: Interviews with Twelve Cinema Pioneers. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001.
The Little Rascals: Collectors Edition, 88 Classic Episodes. Inspired Pictures, 2011. DVD, 6 discs.
American Kennel Club Stud Book. New York: The Club, 1930. p. 22.
Lasky, Betty. RKO, The Biggest Little Major of Them All. Santa Monica, Calif.: Roundtable Pub., 1989.
“Bulldogs at the White House,” Dog Fancier v. 42(3) March 1933, p. 15-16.
Evening Star (Wash. D. C.) June 27, 1937, p. G7.