Our Loyal Guardians Rex & Queenie
For about 113 years, the silent forms of Rex & Queenie have guarded Artigues and Vitter homes in New Orleans. They are identical cast-iron dogs — each an imposing 5 feet 6 inches long, 3 feet 1 inch high, and weighing between 850 pounds and half a ton! No one is going to mess with them (or so we thought!).
How they got there and where they came from are only partially answered. (More later.) They first showed up at 1528 Baronne Street, on the lower river-side corner of Terpsichore Street (which in New Orleans is pronounced TERP-sih-core), where newlyweds Albert Leopold Vitter Sr. and Berthe (neé Artigues) Vitter lived with Berthe's parents Ferréol Jean Marie Artigues and Eugénie (née Dureau) Artigues. The Artigues moved there from a house one block away in 1902, and the Rex & Queenie appeared sometime before Albert Leopold (A. L.) Vitter Jr. was born in December 1915. A. L. had an older sister (named after their mother Berthe) who passed away as an infant. His mother Berthe's parents passed away in the mid-1910s, and Albert Sr., Berthe, and A. L. continued living at the Baronne Street house until 1924. The house is no longer standing.
When Albert Sr., Berthe, and A. L. moved to 3800 Napoleon Avenue in 1924, the dogs naturally came along as loyal guardians, and then again two years later to the newly constructed Vitter house at 3600 Napoleon, cattycorner to where A. L.'s future wife Audrey St. Raymond and her family would move in 1938. 15-year-old A. L. journeyed to the University Notre Dame as a freshman in 1931 and no doubt missed his old friends Rex & Queenie. We wonder if he chose Alumni Hall as his ND home because Alumni's nickname was "the Dawgs." (You can read more about the extensive Vitter lineage at Notre Dame and Alumni Hall in the history A. L. & Audrey Vitter: Role Models Extraordinaires.)
Rex & Queenie's longest tenure was at A. L. & Audrey's new home at 4100 Vincennes Place, where the dogs relocated after Albert Sr. & Berthe passed away seven months apart in 1960–1961. (You can read a history on A. L. & Audrey, a.k.a. Mimi & Père.) There Queenie made her inaugural debut in a Vitter Christmas card in 1963. Rex & Queenie quickly became neighborhood landmarks and were featured in the New Orleans newspaper's Sunday supplement in Spring 1976.
Members of a certain fraternity at nearby Tulane University, well-known for their antics (most not suitable for print), also took note of Rex & Queenie, and in the wee hours during the 1987 spring equinox some inebriated frat brothers chained up Rex and towed him away! A. L., Audrey, and Queenie were distraught by the kidnapping and offered a reward for his return via the Sunday newspaper. A woman nine miles northwest in Metairie phoned that day to say that she found a "large iron dog" lying on her front lawn!
The next day the newspaper published another story, this time on Rex's disappearance and fortunate rediscovery. Amazingly Rex did not sustain any physical or psychological injuries, and he was soon back home next to Queenie. But this time, to play it safe, A. L. secured Rex's & Queenie's paws by welding them onto long metal cylinders sunk into underground columns of concrete!
Now that they were well grounded, Rex & Queenie didn't budge an inch during Hurricane Katrina's horrific winds and flood waters in August–September 2005. Just about everyone else in the city had taken flight beforehand for safety. But not Rex & Queenie. They remained vigilantly at their posts. In the post-Katrina photo above, you can see the various waterlines left on Queenie.
A. L. & Audrey passed away in 2003 and 2005, and in 2007 Rex & Queenie moved a mile and a half to their current home, where they are well groomed and standing guard over the home pictured below of Mark & Mary (née Wilke) Vitter.
It's still a mystery how the Rex & Queenie tradition started and what inspired Ferréol and Eugénie Artigues 113 years ago to acquire the young pups. But Jeff Vitter & Sharon (née Weaver) Vitter (hosts of this website) may have learned where they were made: One day 18 years ago, while Jeff was the dean of the College of Science at Purdue University, he and Sharon came across an identical dog in front of the Historic Five Points Fire Museum in Lafayette, Indiana. Painted black, this triplet of Rex & Queenie was originally forged in the 1840s in Elmira, New York.
The Lafayette, Indiana dog is said to be one of only three made by the Elmira foundry and was transported to Lafayette by riverboat and stage coach, before the days of railroad in Indiana. Another was shipped somewhere in Europe, and the third went to Hollywood, reportedly making a cameo appearance in the movie Gone with the Wind ! Thanks go to museum president Mike Linville for the providing the documentation.
Unlike popular belief in New Orleans that Rex & Queenie were St. Bernards or Great Pyrenees, it turns out that their actual breed is Newfoundland. And contrary to earlier reports, each dog weighs between 850–1,000 pounds, not 500 pounds as the New Orleans newspaper printed in 1976; but then, who doesn't put on weight as they get older?
It is often the case in mathematics that once you know a conjecture is true, it seems to become easier to actually construct a proof of it. Or if you already have a proof, it becomes feasible to construct a simpler, more elegant proof! A similar thing happens in genealogy: When this website was being launched, given that we already knew of Rex & Queenie's Indiana triplet, Jeff went searching on the web thinking that there must be other copies as well, and lo and behold, Rex & Queenie have several other siblings spread across the eastern half of the country!
Rex & Queenie's siblings are all reported to be Newfoundlands and are characteristically painted mostly black or dark to match the breed, as were Rex & Queenie themselves in their very early years. One of the siblings, differing from Rex & Queenie by a slightly more upturned head and with right limbs forward (see first photo above), graces the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia, overlooking the grave of a girl who died of scarlet fever at a very young age. Legend has it that the dog used to be in front of a Richmond store, and the girl would come and hug it every day. Some say her father bought it for her, and after her death transferred it to the cemetery to guard her grave (and also to ensure that the Confederate army didn't melt the dog down for bullets!). Another legend has it that the store owners moved the dog to the little girl's grave because she liked the dog so much.
The dogs have also made it into the literature. Noted dog breeder and Newfoundland expert Margaret Booth Chern, in her book The New Complete Newfoundland, includes a photo of a Newfoundland dog she owned (see second photo above) that matches the Hollywood Cemetery dog. Her dog once graced the grounds of the well-known kennels she founded in Milford, Connecticut. Her kennels bred over 100 champion Newfoundlands, including a continuous line of nine generations of "best in show" or group winners. For many years, similar dog models named Sailor & Canton guarded the Bartlett Hayward Plant of Koppers Company in Baltimore.
Models identical to Rex & Queenie (first photo above) sit in front of the Quincy, Illinois Museum, about a mile from the banks of the Mississippi River. Starting in 1862, they graced the home of Gen. James Washington Singleton, who called his renovated mansion "Boscobel." The dogs moved over the years and were donated to the Quincy Museum when the last owner Myra McGee passed away 12 years ago. In her book mentioned earlier, dog breeder Margaret Booth Chern included another apparent Rex-Queenie clone in Williamstown, Massachusetts (second photo above) that she described as a "long-bodied Newfoundland."
One interesting theory of how Rex & Queenie got to New Orleans was suggested by the history of the successful Robert Wood Foundry (later Wood & Perot and Robert Wood & Co.) of Philadelphia: Perhaps it wasn't made in the Northeast after all, but rather in New Orleans itself! The company was so successful in the 1850s that it opened a branch called Wood, Miltenberger & Co. at 57 Camp Street in New Orleans (prime real estate today!), which operated until the Civil War. Perhaps Rex & Queenie were fabricated there, or maybe shipped there from the Philadelphia headquarters. Robert Wood put out extensive catalogs, and in the catalog from 1858 (pictured above) you can see on the left side a small depiction of a dog labeled "Cast Iron Newfoundland Dog." An identical example of Rex & Queenie, described as a Newfoundland and attributed to Wood & Perot, is pictured above outside the home of antiques dealer Barbara Israel in Katonah, New York; it has since been bought by a New York collector.
Another Rex-Queenie clone (first photo below) was recently auctioned off by Sotheby's. It was again listed as a Newfoundland, and the measurements given match our Rex & Queenie closely. Sotheby's listed either J. W. Fiske of New York or Wood & Perot of Philadelphia as the fabricators.
And if that's not enough, Rex & Queenie apparently have other relatives showing some level of resemblance, likely second or third cousins! One of them, named Charity (second photo above), graces the entrance to Federated Charities in Frederick, Maryland. She seems to have had a rough life: On separate occasions, she has had her head stolen, her tail broken off, and her body tattooed!
While we still don't know exactly how Rex & Queenie got to the Artigues home in New Orleans roughly 113 years ago, or where they were since they were fabricated likely 50 years prior, it's clear that Rex & Queenie share a rich history and many memories with the Vitter-Artigues family. With so many siblings, they need to start putting together a family tree of their own! We hope this web page gives them a good start!
As to the yet unanswered questions … If only dogs could talk!