Jul 27, 2009 4:51 PM | 2
We've been working diligently on our photo inventory, and it's uncovered some new material to write about. Today, I found myself enchanted by a relatively unknown event in the Central Library's kitschier history: the Pet Show.
On May 21, 1955, Brooklyn Public Library and Abraham & Straus department store hosted the Storybook Pet Show, a costumed pet competition for children in first through seventh grades. Entrants were asked to create a costume or display that was, in true library form, inspired by a good book. One young man went all out, creating both a Sleeping Beauty costume for his rabbit and a Prince outfit for himself.
Not everyone seemed to enjoy the costume party as much as Sleeping Beauty. The Times reported that several animals appeared to be rather miserable. Beano the Circus Dog "yelped the afternoon away in his costume." And this Puss in Boots doesn't seem particularly happy either (although neither does her owner).
Inside, children were able to participate in story hours alongside their animals - a welcome treat for the usually pet-less building. Outside, a large stage hosted the official contest. Judges included John Tee-Van, Director of the Bronx Zoo and Robert Lawson, an award-winning children's author and illustrator.
The library invited Australian actor Cyril Ritchard to host the festivities.
Ritchard had recently won a Tony for his stint as a singing and dancing Captain Hook in Broadway's Peter Pan and he oblingingly attended in character. You may remember him from the 1960 televised version of the musical that also starred Mary Martin. Anyone who recalls his performance can imagine the piratical panache he must have brought to his hosting duties.
Ironically, on a day when children celebrated some of the greatest fictional characters of all time, the child who won referenced a factual person. Nine year-old Martha Jane Livingston of Fort Greene won the contest with her presentation of "Admiral 'Bird' at the South Pole." She created a diorama of the South Pole that fit around the bird cage - a clever reference to Antarctic explorer Admiral Richard E. Byrd. Little Martha Jane won a brand-new "fully-equipped" bicycle and everyone else received a consolation prize of a book. Not a bad reward for a day spent playing with your pet.