There's a Kickstarter project currently up for funding that would create a graphic novel about Owney, Albany's famous traveling dog. From the St. Louis-based team behind The Secret Around-the-World Adventures of Owney, the Postal Dog:
What if Owney had made some unexpected detours during his travels around the world and had some exciting adventures along the way? He was always going his own way, so it wouldn't be altogether surprising.
We imagined him not just stopping in Japan and China, but crossing into India, the Middle East and Europe on his own before sailing back to the States. He would have had a chance to see a world very few people saw at that time. He might have befriended postal workers of distant countries or met famous contemporaries like the Lumiere Brothers in Paris...
If their project is successful, Albany's most famous pooch could be famous once again.
What? You don't know about Owney?
In the late 19th century, Albany was still an important place on the national political scene, and many of its residents were well known throughout the country. But one of its most famous residents was a homeless pooch who rode the rails: Owney, The Postal Clerk's Dog.
W.J. Dennis, in The Traveling Post Office: History and Incidents of the Railway Mail Service, wrote:
It is not an unusual thing for a dog to drift in unannounced, attach himself to some place or person, and remain a perfectly satisfied tho' uninvited guest. A few have made their homes in post offices and there become favorites and mascots with post office clerks. Such a dog was Owney, a Scotch-Irish cur, which was adopted by the clerks in the Albany, N.Y. post office in 1888. Owney, however, took a liking to railway mail cars, and after once making a trip in a mail car became a traveling post office dog, a great pet of railway postal clerks and an inveterate traveler.
Clerks at the Albany Post Office (which was then in the imposing federal building at the foot of State Street) gave the dog a collar with the inscription, "Owney, Albany Post Office, Albany, N.Y." Postal men in nearly every state in the Union attached checks, medals, inscriptions, verses, and post marks to his collar, such that the Postmaster General "took pity on Owney and had a harness made on which to carry the tags, medals, etc., that were attached to him." [Smithsonian]
That included a little memo book in which verses were written, including this deathless gem from a clerk in Detroit:
Owney is a tramp,
As you can plainly see,
Only treat him kindly,
And take him 'long wid ye.
All these souvenirs became too much for a little mutt to bear. A clerk in Boston took the whole outfit off and sent it to Albany, "where the souvenirs were placed in a glass case, along with a picture of the traveling postal dog." But he put the harness back on and started collecting tags again.
Owney went well beyond what were then the continental 38 or so. In 1895, on a journey promoted by the Post Office, he ventured to Alaska, and then sailed for Japan, where he arrived at Yokohama on October 3rd. Dennis reports that at Kobe, Owney received a medal from the Emperor, then visited Shanghai, Fuzhou, and Singapore, then to Port Said, making a return trip through the Suez Canal and the Azores. He landed in New York and then cross the country again to Tacoma, having gone around the world in 132 days. He had accumulated some 200 tags and medals, and was put on display to be viewed by thousands who had heard of his exploits. "At a Dog Show in San Francisco, Owney was given a silver medal, not for beauty, but for being the 'Greatest Dog Traveler in the World.'"
If the tales are to be believed, Owney was some mutt. The New York Times described Owney as "[not] a handsome dog, but he has excellent qualities, and is kindly and intelligent." He very much wanted to wear his medal-bedecked harness, crawling back into it when someone would take it off. He was also thought to be able to navigate the trains himself: put off the Albany-Boston train by a clerk, he hopped a local to Troy, took the Boston train from there (yes, we used to have two ways to get to Boston), and arrived there in time to greet the clerk from Albany. He also attended several conventions of postal clerks, where, according to Dennis, he received wild applause, "wagging his stump tail in delight."
If only this had a happy ending. In August, 1897, Owney went to Toledo. There are various accounts as to what happened; it seems that Owney was put on a chain and became agitated, and for some reason bit a postal clerk on the hand (in other accounts, he bit a reporter). The postmaster there, Rudolph Brand, called a policeman to dispatch the cur, but the cop who was called refused to do the job. It was the next day before another officer shot and killed Owney while he was chained to a post. [Toledo Gazette]
The good news? You can still see Owney today. Postal workers put up the money to have Owney stuffed and put on display at the National Postal Museum in Washington, DC. He was also honored with a commemorative stamp in 2011, which occasioned a celebration at the Albany Heritage Area Visitors Center.
photos: Smithsonian Institute Flickr
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