Sunday, September 13, 2009

Locust Grove

In the summer of 1987, I worked a third shift job as a security guard at the Young/Morse Historic Site, otherwise known as Locust Grove, in Poughkeepsie, New York. For about a quarter of the 19th century, the grounds were the home of the family of Samuel F.B. Morse, the inventor of the telegraph and Morse code.

Last weekend, KJ and I visited Locust Grove and toured the home and its lovely grounds, while also learning a couple things that even I didn't know about Morse. First of all, I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I wasn't aware he was a painter long before he became famous as an inventor. Most importantly, though, his motivation to create the telegraph was that his wife died while he was traveling far from home, and by the time he received word by horse messenger and returned, she had already been buried.

Young/Morse home
After Morse's death, his family remained for a few years, but eventually sold the estate to the wealthy and politically connected Poughkeepsie couple, William and Martha Young. The Young family was dedicated to the historical significance of Locust Grove and its preservation as it existed during Morse's lifetime. When their daughter Annette died in 1975, her will established a trust to maintain the estate for the "education, visitation and enlightenment of the public."

Pets were an important part of the Youngs' existence, and Annette's will also provided for the care of any living pets and their descendents. The summer I worked there, 12 years after her death, I worked with a "guard dog" named Linus. I don't know his entire story, but I was told he was willed to the estate. Since he wasn't old enough to have been alive during Annette's lifetime, I always assumed he was the offspring of her dog.

Linus wasn't really a guard dog per se, but I can tell you that I was a little nervous to get out of my car the first time he introduced himself to me in the way that territorial canines often do. We became fast friends, though, and he turned out to be a welcome companion as I'd make my rounds of the dark estate two or three times per hour. He also served as my personal alarm clock, warning me as the supervisor's car approached, which was important on the nights that I needed a few winks to get me through to 8am.

The only time Linus wasn't there for me was the night that a pack of coyotes had been seen and heard patrolling the grounds. I'm not exactly sure where he ended up hiding that night, but observing how scared he was caused me to spend most of the night inside my car, rather than at my usual post on the veranda of Morse's former home.

Linus' head stoneThe Youngs' reverence for their pets is evident at the estate by the fact that there are three pet cemeteries on the grounds. Well aware of this from my time spent as a guard there, I knew that our recent visit would give me the chance to pay my respects to one of my all-time favorite dogs.

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