Monday, March 15, 2010

Pawprints on Clermont

I bumped into a former Clermont educator the other day, and she was suprised that I had never noticed the dog scratches in several of the doors at Clermont. As a pet lover herself, Heidi was very atuned to such things. Her 2004 exhibit on companion animals at Clermont (shown at right) has frequently provided me with research and insite into the Livingston's animal-rich past.

So I had to go and look for myself: yes indeed! There are low doggy scratches on the inside and outside of the doors leading to the kitchen wing. These doors were usually closed to hide servants' work, but the dogs' water and probably food were in the kitchen so they would have had to be let in and out frequently. I imagine it was part of the ceaseless routine of homelife to "rescue" the dog from the wrong side of the door (whichever side was wrong at thet moment)...One door even appeared to have higher, larger scratches that made me think of Rufus the bloodhound's heavy paws.

But the pets left other little mementos of themselves behind in some surprising places.

During our Collections Cleanup Day last month, I speant an hour or so vacuuming an historic Oriental carpet--which was full of what looked to be orange cat hair.

Once this carpet was spread in the middle of the south-facing library windows. A carpet in a sunny spot is often a draw for a cat nap. Was this a favorite haunt of Topaz the cat? (pictured at left with Janet Livingston)

Most of the marks that pets left behind at Clermont were ones that the Livingstons made on behalf of their animals: the dog gate at the top of the stairs or Alice Livingston's sculpted frieze above the study fireplace. To me, it is all the more special to find the marks that these animals made on their own.
In the future when I wander around Clermont or tour historic houses where I know that there were pets (Cherry Hill in Albany, for instance), I will certainly keep a better eye out for the pawprints left by the historic pets of this world.
For an more information about the growth of pet ownership in America, try this article published by Colonial Williamsburg.

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