Johnny and his dog

This bit of Dayton history is a reblog from a post on our sister site, Raising a Super Dog, that I published a while back. And by a while back, it’s possible I may mean about ten years ago or so.

I’ll publish the story as it happened back then, complete with photos. At the end of the article, I’ve added new information that I’ve uncovered since the original post went live in 2010.

Imagine this. You’re exploring an old city cemetery during the early evening hours. You like this time of day because of the softly muted light. You’re taking photos of an interesting monument and thinking intellectually deep thoughts about macro shots, f-stops and ISO settings.

You’re in the zone. If you lean at this angle, is the depth of field too shallow or should you maybe bump it up to . . . and suddenly from behind you comes a deep bass “EXCUSE ME.”

What do you do? Turn around smoothly with an air of cool authority that says clearly, you wouldn’t DARE accost me? Or instead make a weird little strangling sob sound that is shorthand for “my purse is on the front seat of the car”?

What did I do? Oh, as if. Option B, naturally. Just about dropped my stupid camera, I did. To my relief, the interruption to my artsy musings was merely a young college student from the adjacent University of Dayton who was taking his evening constitutional through Woodland Cemetery. Although I did make clear that I HAVE MY DOG IN THE CAR.  Perhaps a little too loudly. Thinking this may thwart any untoward thoughts against my chubby, middle-aged person.

The young man was merely curious; he’d heard stories about a haunting at Woodland. Something about a boy and his dog. He couldn’t help but notice that I was taking photos of a monument of the same. Taking photos is right. I was trying to get a macro shot of the stone dog’s nostrils (f-stop, depth of field…) when he caused me to jump out of my skin. But more on dog nostrils in a minute.

Hey fella, she left the keys in the ignition.

So, what’s the story on the boy and his dog; did I know? Are you kidding me?  Heck yes, I know.  Just give me a sec here to swallow first so I can get my heart dislodged from my tonsils, though.

In waning summer of 1860, 5-year-old Johnny Morehouse was playing with his dog near his father’s cobbler shop in downtown Dayton, Ohio. Dayton was still enjoying her youth during these pre-Civil War times and relied on the nearby river, along with the Miami & Erie Canal system, for commerce with other Ohio cities. This was long before the Great Flood of 1913 when folk still had a tentative trust in the Great Miami River and its tributaries. 

Johnny ignored his mother’s warnings and was playing at the edge of the canal, tossing a ball into the water for his dog to retrieve. When he put all his weight into a hard throw, Johnny lost his balance and fell into the dark water. When Johnny didn’t come back up, his dog jumped in to pull his boy back to safety.

But it was not to be.

Little Johnny Morehouse drowned on that warm summer day of August 14, 1860.

Johnny was laid to rest later that week in beautiful Woodland Cemetery, which was also in its youth, having been established less than twenty years prior. Legend has it that his dog stayed at his graveside, refusing to leave. For a time, kind families would come by to bring food and water to the dog.

Then one day, the dog was gone and never seen again.

It’s said that in late summer, at the last light of the day after the cemetery gates have been locked, you can hear a boy in the distance, laughing and playing with his happily barking dog.

But really, people

Johnny’s father, John, was a cobbler, making shoes and boots for his Dayton neighbors. Making an honest living, but certainly not a rich man by anyone’s standards. The family could only afford a modest grave marker for their youngest son. But a local businessman, Daniel La Dow, was inspired by the story of Johnny’s valorous dog. La Dow himself was a skilled stonecutter and owner of a prosperous marble works in the city. His team designed and created the remarkable monument that is at Johnny’s gravesite. ‘Tis truly a work of art that is not duplicated anywhere else within our fair city.

The monument has no dates on it – no date of birth nor death. The only inscriptions are Johnny’s name and the words Slumber Sweet. We see that after these past 150 years, the dog remains vigilant with a protective paw over the young boy as he sleeps. Forever to be alert and watchful in stone.

At their feet rests Johnny’s cap and the toys found in his pocket that horrible day; his ball, a top, and mouth harp (harmonica).

Woodland Cemetery states this is their most visited gravesite – and the most decorated. The site changes daily as families come by to pay their respects to this lost boy by leaving toys, trinkets and clothing. These items are later collected and donated to charitable organizations.

Now, about those nostrils

To avoid cracks in the stone due to temperature changes, La Dow included an air vent inside the monument. This rather clever design allows barometric pressure changes to be released through the dog’s nose. It is true that if you hold your hand near the dog’s nostrils, you can feel it “breathe.”  In the coldest of temps you can see steam coming from the nose.

What’s really surprising to me though, is that in spite of the various legends of this boy and his dog (I’ve only shared one story), we don’t know the dog’s name. This is lost to history as well as the dog’s breed. I don’t know, it seems disrespectful to me to even nickname this boy’s dog. But what kind of dog is it?

Take a break, Hero Dog. I got this.

But isn’t it obvious? Love, responsibility and a never-ending devotion? It’s got to be a golden retriever, don’t you think?

Ok, so what is it that I’ve learned about the legend of Johnny Morehouse and his dog over the last ten years?

Johnny’s father, John Morehouse, was born in 1828 in Newark, New Jersey. John later came to Dayton with his parents, John and Nancy, where he helped his father re-establish their family’s craft of boot and shoemaking. Eventually the two set up a wholesale shop on Third Street in Dayton’s “Miami City” neighborhood, not far from where the Wright Brothers’ would soon start their printing business (and later their famous bicycle shop). The Miami City blocks were located west of downtown Dayton, separated from the city by the Great Miami River.

John Morehouse married Mary Browning in 1851, when John was only twenty three years old. Four years later Mary gave John a son, a namesake who they called Johnny. They might have imagined Johnny to be a third generation shoemaker, but first there was a childhood to be had.

In the days before municipal playgrounds and little league teams, the river banks served as the Victorian Era child’s amusement park. And the Great Miami River was a mere three blocks from both John’s wholesale Boot & Shoe business on West Third Street and the Morehouse home located on Williams Street.

The Miami-Erie canal was across the Third Street bridge, far into the downtown milling and manufacturing areas. It was unlikely that five-year-old Johnny was near the canal on August 14, but he was certainly not a stranger to the Great Miami River or the adjoining Wolf Creek that meets the river just before the bridge.

Although prone to flooding during the spring, the Great Miami’s waters would be down during the hot, dry days of late summer. We can imagine a cobbler’s young son neatly placing his shoes under his bed, then stuffing his pockets with beloved toys before running down to the river’s edge. With the August sun on his shoulders, it would be hard to deny the temptation to walk barefoot into the lapping water; to cool his toes in the silty mud. His dog, a water lover himself, is splashing along at his side, entertaining the thoughts of playing fetch with his favorite boy.

John continued his boot and shoemaking business after Johnny’s death. Then after Mary passed, John remarried the widow Barbara Shook and they relocated their home to the other side of the Great Miami to live on Baxter Street. Barbara died at the age of 51 in 1878, leaving John twice widowed.

Later in life John closed his shoemaking business for good and made a living as an insurance salesman. John died on August 7, 1903, almost 43 years to the day after Johnny’s early death. He’s buried in the Morehouse family plot at Woodland, with the Boy and Dog within sight.

Daniel La Dow, the designer behind the Boy and Dog, owned La Dow & Hamilton Marbleworks (later La Dow & Winder) located downtown on Third Street, between Jefferson and St. Clair Streets. He is buried at Woodland Cemetery as well. His monument is an impressive obelisk to honor the life of this generous man. I wonder if he designed this himself and feel that he very likely did.

Another bit of history with the Boy & Dog monument happened in April, 2008, when the head of the dog was displaced from its perch. I was visiting the cemetery and was dismayed to see this demarcation of our city’s beloved monument. While taking a photo, a Woodland security guard drove past and yelled something from his car.

“What?” I said.

“We got the head!” he repeated.

Ok, good to know. I was worried. The damage wasn’t vandalism as first rumored, but something more in the line of natural causes. One story blamed a falling tree branch, while another suggested it wasn’t unusual to expect some wear and tear over the hundred plus years of Ohio weather patterns. Restoration was done promptly by Woodland and all is as it should be today.

Do you have your own stories with the Boy & Dog monument at Woodland? What legends have you heard about Johnny and his dog? Share your experiences in the comments!

Sure, it’s been ten years. But I can still fit into the same collar. You should know that.

The Lady and her Deutsche Dogge

I once asked a friend, a professional dog handler, for some advice about training tools. She told me that it doesn’t matter how heavy the leash is, it’s all about how much control you have over your dog. A thin leather leash is all that’s needed for a well-mannered canine companion. At the time I had just taken on a young German Shepherd Dog who had the unfortunate combo of brute strength and a strong fear response to anything the world had to offer. There was never a time I felt comfortable with a thin leather leash with this fella.

I was reminded of this conversation when reviewing this remarkable cabinet card photo.

Unknown Woman with a Great Dane. Photographer H. Ohm, Sangerhausen Germany. c.1895

Those who’ve been following our sister site at Raising a Super Dog are aware of my appreciation of All Things Dog. I am absolutely fascinated by all facets of the canine-human bond.

So besides taking the talk for a walk, so to speak, by raising service dogs and volunteering as a pet therapy team, I collect stories to share how dogs change our lives in positive and profound ways.

Awhile back, I created a Dogs of Yore Pinterest board as a jump start to capturing the long history of people enjoying life with their four-legged companions. In a time when a photo-op was a planned event, and not just “IDK, feeling cute. Might delete later,” these were folk who wanted to showcase their relationship with their canine partner.

Since starting the digital image collection on Pinterest, I began looking for original images as well. And so I welcome my newest acquisition of this cabinet card of a lovely young German lady, who shares a vague resemblance to Sigourney Weaver, and her brindle Deutsche Dogge, a breed we now know as the Great Dane. And one really, really thin leash.

Based on the type of cabinet card and the young lady’s attire, I’m taking a swag this is just about 1895. Let’s take a closer look at the details for any other possible clues.

The reverse side of the cabinet card has the standard stuff with the name and address of the studio, along with how they are able to make more prints upon request. In this case, the photographer uses the term “die platten,” which indicates they were likely using a dry glass plate process.

A close-up of the young lady shows more details of her dress, which appears to be a dark velvet beneath the puff-shouldered frock; a decorative pin at her throat is the only jewelry she is wearing. Her gaze is one of confidence and is only matched by her dog’s expression.

What scares this woman? I’m guessing not much.

Ich esse Drachen zum Frühstück

The Deutsche Dogge, or Great Dane, was popular in the early 1800’s in Germany as boar hounds. This explains the closely cropped ears on our handsome friend here, which was still the style at the time of this photo. However, this guy was most likely a beloved pet of a family with modest wealth, not a hunter.

And that beautiful head shape shows a bit of the Mastiff background bred into these dogs. But hey, what about that one-ear-up and one-ear-down thing he has going on there? It takes some of his street cred away, doesn’t it?

Speaking of street cred, let’s take a moment to respect the leash loosely held in the young lady’s hand. Consider that she left her home holding that thin phone cord of a thing, strolled the streets to reach the Mr. H. Olm’s studio at the Georgenpromenade, entered a building with strange men with beards and hats, then she posed with a dog so massive they had to move the camera equipment back to get the whole dog in the shot. You did notice the front paws hanging off the edge, right?

“Could you move your dog back a bit, please, Miss? Nein? Uh, ok, then.”

As always with these things, I wish I could know more about this photo. What was her name, did she grow up with this breed of dog, if the geraniums on the table indicate it was summer, wasn’t it too hot to wear velvet?

And the dog’s name? It must have been something heroic, right? I’m guessing he might be a Kätzchen, Törtchen, or something befitting.

But I could be wrong. Maybe it’s closer to 1900.

I mustache you a question

This is a blog post from our sister site, Raising a Super Dog. I originally shared this story when I was still fresh in the beginning of our family research.

Since I’ve found myself in the position of Keeper of the Family Photos these last couple of weeks, the immersion into family history has completely hijacked my daily routines. What I call “going down the rabbit hole again” while doing genealogy research, my husband refers to as “have you even showered today?” Right. About that.

Don’t ask.

See, for every photo that I can actually link to a name, there are so many more faces – some bearing a no-nonsense grim expression, others beaming in black and white glory – I just can’t seem to identify. I carefully pluck an intriguing image from its four photo corners, where it’s been safely secured for the last, oh, hundred years or so, and turn the thing over to find … nothing.

And this is where I silently scream in frustration.

Just kidding. It’s more of a throaty, aargh-ish grunt; like the sound I make when I try to stand up from a too-soft sofa. With the contrary ancestral photo in hand, I hold it at arm’s length and cry out “who ARE you people?”

They never answer.

rcu knight of st. john cabinet card=-sword family
What impresses me most about this gent … is it the uniform? The intense gaze? Let’s be honest here. It’s that wondrous cookie catcher.

Oh, and did I mention? This isn’t even my family, really. It’s my husband’s paternal side.

With that, let’s all pause here to write ourselves a reminder note to label your historical family photos. All of them. Before it’s too late, people. I’ll grab a cup of coffee while you do this.

Ok, y’all. I’m back. You know, your descendants will thank me later. Because what I have before me now are more than fifty photo albums and scrapbooks, plus another four storage boxes of loose photos and documents. And no one left in the family with a living memory of most of this collection of images.

So many magnificent mustaches, so few clues.

Speaking of furry facial features, this portrait of an adorable bearded dog has been gracing our walls since being gifted to us a few years ago after my husband’s uncle had passed. Before reaching us, this fella was in a place of honor in Uncle Jay’s study, right alongside the newlywed portraits of Jay’s mother and father, who married in 1911.

1917 Portrait of a Sword Dog
Right. So where’s *my* portrait?

When we first received the portrait, I had a deep curiosity about the dog. Jay’s love of this companion was strong enough to have the dog’s image framed and on proud display. Yet today we have no historical context for it. Name, gender, when the dog was around to do his (or her) part in the human:animal bonding experience … nothing to offer us, but the solemn over-the-shoulder hundred yard stare and the knowledge this photo was taken decades ago. Or perhaps even a full century ago.

So maybe you can imagine the wonderful dopamine response when going through one of the newly acquired Sword Family turn-of-the-century scrapbooks and I find this treasure trove of vintage images.

Vintage Sword Dogs
Vintage Sword Dogs

Six glorious pages of nuthin’ but dogs and cats and chickens and ducks, all in the general era of 1911-20. What kind of person scrapbooks this stuff? My people, that’s who.

Then this.

Portrait Dog 1917
What is this “Photoshop” you speak of?

Do you see it? It’s the same photo as in the oval frame. Except that it’s been altered to remove the background. The 1917 version of Photoshop.


This photo has generously rewarded me with info on the back. Handwritten there is my husband’s grandfather’s name and address – and instructions to the photo processor to create a block background.


Oh sure. But you know what’s not recorded in that brief script? That’s right. The we-love-him-so-much-let’s-frame-him dog’s name.

There are more photos of this guy. Like this one, which is my father-in-law, George, captured in time as a toddler enjoying a bonding moment with the dog.

george and dog
This is the photo that helped me to date the portrait image and to, well, know it’s a boy dog. I’m savvy like that.

Oh, mysterious terrier of 1917 House Sword. Who are you?

Seriously, don’t be that family. Why put your heirs through the awkwardness of monikers lost to history. Label those old photos before you, too, lose the living memories of your clan.

And hey, let’s bring those magnificent mustaches back, too. How did those ever fall out of style?

And by the way, I’ll make a guess that perhaps his name was Skippy.

The dog, not the stache. Don’t make it weird.

i approve this post
I approve this post