The Morris-Essex Kennel Show, The Show of Shows

In the 1930s, at the height of the Great Depression, the Morris-Essex Kennel Show was said to be the world’s largest and richest one-day sporting event.

Juno, owned by Mrs. Charles Mapes, jumps to the command of her owner's 16-year-old daughter, Judy, after the dog's turn in the ring at the Morris-Essex Kennel Show in June 1955.
Juno, owned by Mrs. Charles Mapes, jumps to the command of her owner's 16-year-old daughter, Judy, after the dog's turn in the ring at the Morris-Essex Kennel Show in June 1955.
Photo courtesy of Jerry Cooke/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge spared no expense. In the 1930s, at the height of the Great Depression, the annual dog show she sponsored in New Jersey—the Morris-Essex Kennel Show—was said to be the world’s largest and richest one-day sporting event.

Dodge launched the show in 1927 on the polo fields at Hartley Farms, the 200-acre plus Harding Township property adjoining Giralda Farms, the Dodge estate in Madison. Soon, “See you at Madison” became the greeting of dog-fanciers around the world. Dodge’s show even outdid the Crufts Dog Show of the U.K. (which now holds the record of largest show) for the caliber of its competing canines, judges, trophies and prizes.

It was what one expected of Geraldine Dodge. She and her husband, Marcellus Hartley Dodge, were the richest couple in America, thanks to the combined wealth from her Rockefeller inheritance and his ownership of the Remington Arms Corporation.

“Geraldine was the grande dame of the Morris-Essex Dog Show,” wrote Dodge biographer Barbara Mitnick. “The fact that it ran into the red each year due to the extravagant level of her entertaining and accommodations didn’t matter; the entire undertaking was a labor of love. One year costing $250,000.”

Country Life reported in 1934, “From sterling-silver trophies to white-gloved luncheon servers, Mrs. Dodge attended to every detail of her dog show.” The event encompassed 230 acres, with 3 acres of tents and more than 20 acres of parking space, to accommodate, at its peak, 50,000 spectators and handlers, 10,000 cars and 4,500 dogs. The catering order one year was reported as 1 ½ tons of roast turkey, 100 hams, 750 quarts of potato salad, 8,000 rolls, 400 fruitcakes and 750 quarts of ice cream. Spectators paid $1 to enter, and participants received a free boxed lunch.

Among Dodge’s favorite breeds was the German shepherd. It must have been a special thrill when Captain Max von Stephanitz, the developer of the breed, agreed to be a judge in 1931. The same year, attendance soared to see four-legged matinee idol Rin-Tin-Tin and actor Gary Cooper arrive from Hollywood.

The show, which ran until 1957, employed 750 local residents and 150 policemen. Lifelong Madison resident Bob Coultas, former president of the Morristown Rotary Club, worked at the show in the early 1950s, when Dodge contacted the high school requesting responsible boys looking to make extra money. “We were runners, making sure the right dog appeared at the right ring at the right time,” says Coultas. “We wore white jackets and were paid well, a small stipend.”

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