Sunday, November 27, 2011

A day in the park with Lad, a dog

In a park on a quiet, wooded hillside on Pompton Lake, there's a small sign that says, simply, "Lad." Not far away, there's an engraved stone embedded in the ground, which goes a little farther: "LAD. Thoroughbred in body and soul. 1902-1918."

Not far from that marker, there are stones with other names, plus a small kennel. What happened here, and why the focus on dogs?

Terhune Park in Wayne is, in fact, the estate of Albert Payson Terhune and his wife Anice. Readers of early 20th century literature may be familiar with the "Lad, A Dog" book series, or perhaps the movie that was made from the original book in the early 1960s. Albert was a dog lover and breeder of rough collies and had tried without success to find a market for the stories he wrote about his dogs. That changed when the normally aloof Lad finally took a liking to a family friend who was also an editor for Redbook magazine. Fictionalized accounts of the dog's exploits were eventually published there, the Saturday Evening Post and in other periodicals, building a huge following. In those days, reading was one of the few forms of entertainment in the home, so writers and publishers alike could profit handsomely from serialized stories featuring popular characters. 

Known as Sunnybank, the Terhune estate eventually became home to at least eight collies and a cat, and the Terhunes' love of animals even extended to frogs and goldfish they named and kept in a pond near the kennel. Lad, however, was the rock star of the family. Profits from his stories were donated to the Red Cross and the Blue Cross, earning him medals from both organizations. In the years following his death, thousands of loyal fans continued to visit his grave.

The house itself no longer stands, having been victim to abandonment following Mrs. Terhune's death in 1964. Much of the estate was sold to developers, but Wayne Township condemned a 10 acre portion for use as a passive recreation park.

Ivan and I found Sunnybank to be a calming, pastoral setting when we visited a few weeks ago, and it seemed that the other visitors there at the time did, too. There are no ball fields or playgrounds there, just a few park benches and a gazebo near the lake, making it a perfect setting for quiet contemplation. Sitting there, overlooking the water, one could easily imagine the Terhunes enjoying a nice afternoon outside with the dogs.

1 comment:

  1. i loved those books...and i love collies!

    Thank you so much for this lovely entry!

    ReplyDelete