Railroad Jack & Food: A Love Story

Railroad Jack, like most dogs, loved food. Fortunately for him, he had no shortage of friends to feed him. And feed him they did! There are many accounts of Jack being fed or scamming food from railroad workers, restaurants, or hotels. There are also a lot of reports of the effects of this gluttony: the dog was said to be quite corpulent. Jack’s appetite and physical appearance were favorite topics of the press, so here are some highlights that showcase Jack’s love of a good meal:

-“He boards at the Delavan House walking unceremoniously into the kitchen whenever he is hungry, and mutely appealing for sustenance. He is never refused, and is as fat as a pumpkin.”  Boston Globe, July 30, 1890, 4.

-“He is known by railroad men everywhere, and gets full rations four or five times a day, and is very fat.” New York Sun, February 21, 1891, 8.

-“There is not a railroader along the Delaware and Hudson and the Fitchburg systems that would not divide his dinner pail with Jack and then contribute a nickel for a juicy sirloin for his canine eminence.” Schuylerville Standard (Schuylerville, NY), April 12, 1893.

Look at all of those people who Jack might have been able to con into feeding him

So well-known was his appetite that even his taxidermied body was fodder for some “stuffing” puns:

-“Poor ” Railroad Jack” made another trip last week. The railroad men in Schenectady, who had stuffed Jack from their dinner pails for years wanted to see how he looked stuffed by the taxidermist. Jack will be kept in a glass case on exhibition at the Union depot in Albany, where he suddenly expired a few months ago.” Stamford Mirror (Stamford, NY), September 12, 1893.

By the end of his life, however, the overfeeding had taken its toll. Reports discuss how he struggled to move freely and breathe due to the extra weight. He was even diagnosed with a “fatty” heart, which may have contributed to his death in 1893.

A larger piece of this project is examining how dogs like Jack and Owney provided a safe outlet for railroad men to express affection and care, emotions that didn’t fit neatly into traditional conceptions of masculinity. The men’s willingness to feed their pet so well (often better than they ate themselves) is telling.



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