Category Archives: memorial photography

A Mysterious Hero Dog of Chicago, 1958: Your Help Needed!

Pets Blog 1 July 15_0032

“Spotty the Hero Dog,” posthumous photo,Chicago, IL, 1958. Photographer unknown.

Here is a mystery that really needs solving, and I hope that you can help!  Years ago, I purchased this posthumous photography of “Spotty Chicago Hero Dog.”  The images had no information on the reverse side, although the 8″ x 10″ black-and-whites looked like unused newspaper photographs.  The seller had no information on the pictures, either.

Spotty the Hero Dog won a “Lassie Gold Award.” For you youngsters, the rough-coated collie Lassie was the star of a young adult novel, Lassie Come-Home, published in 1940.  The novel became a movie in 1943, and Lassie (who was really a male collie named Pal)  became so popular that a series of movies followed.  Then came the television show Lassie, which first aired in 1954 and continued for twenty years. Pal did not live forever, of course, but his descendants played subsequent Lassies.  Not only was Lassie the centerpiece of a media machine, but Lassie products proliferated, too:  dolls, spin-off children’s books, lunchboxes and posters and other items. As a little girl, I watched Lassie, although I always thought that Timmy, the boy who had the thankless job of starring against Pal in the late 1950s and early 1960s, was sort of a drip.

In 1957, the popularity of the heroic Lassie character led to the creation of the Lassie Gold Awards, intended to commemorate dogs that had done something exceptional, including protecting or rescuing people.  It’s not clear whose idea led to the awards, nor is it known who nominated or selected the winners. The first award in 1958 went to posthumously to a dog that had died in World War II.  So Spotty here was an early recipient of the award, which included a large gilded bronze medal with Lassie’s picture on one side.  One medal hangs above Spotty and a $500 Savings Bond, apparently part of the award, is visible to its right.  However, I think that the Lassie medal may be the larger one in the open case in front of Spotty’s coffin.

I searched for a list of recipients of the Lassie Gold Award, but I have been unable to find one.  One 1964 newspaper article I found noted that by 1964 more than 200 dogs had received it.  The award seems to have continued into the 1970s.

So who was Spotty?  I may have found him, but let me know whether you think I’m right and if you have more information.  Here is the heroic Spotty that I found.

Spotty crop copy

This is an image of Spotty nursing a head injury after saving his owner, Vivian Piorcharz, from a pair of robbers. Circulated  by the United Press as a human interest piece, this one was published in the 21 March 1958 edition of a local newspaper in Harlingen, Texas.   Returning to the original photo and using a  magnifying glass, I think that I make out her name on the Lassie medal.  Also, there are mounted clippings just visible to the left and right of the coffin.

So what happened to Spotty?  If this is he, the faithful dog didn’t survive long after his heroic deed. Perhaps he died from a head injury.  The white markings on the face of the corpse don’t exactly match the photograph, but perhaps Spotty’s body was dolled up a little.

I’ll keep looking for more information.  Don’t hesitate to let me know if you can fill out more of the story!



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Filed under Dog hero, dogs, material culture, memorial photography, pets

A Mysterious Family Photograph, 1895 — with Dog!

Pets Blog 1 July 15_0009

Cabinet card photograph, dated 1895 on verso. Photographer unknown.

Here’s a mystery for you!  As I recall, I found this photograph at a paper show, and the seller knew nothing about it.    It is dated “1895” in pencil on the back. Here’s how I parse it.

Given that the picture is taken in the corner of a room, and the child on the right has been cut off, I thnk that this was taken by an amateur photographer.   I interpret the two crayon portraits on the easels as the grandparents of this attractive brood of youngsters.  “Crayon portraits” are enlarged photographs enhanced with charcoal or crayon.  They were very popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s because they offered the impressive size of painted portraits with the accuracy of the photographic image — and at an accessible price point. Photographers actually made most of their money on these by selling the pictures in fancy frames.

Why the dog is included is unknown — I’d like to think he or she is an honorary grandchild!  But it is amusing that the dog is seated higher than most of the children, and that he gets a lot of space in the image, while the kids are sort of squashed together, and the little boy on the right is only half a child.  Note that the dog is looking directly at the photographer and is holding very still while some of the children are squirming.

I can — and have — made up stories about this photograph.  Try your hand at one.  If you make up a good one, I’ll publish it!


Filed under dogs, memorial photography, pet antiques, pet photography, pets