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Updating the legend of Chippiannock dog

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Hardly the week goes by that some curious mortal doesn't call: "What's the story behind that granite dog in the cemetery?"

It is from someone who has been to Rock Island's Chippiannock Cemetery and had stopped at the marker of a life-size dog.

Usually there are flowers, fresh at this season, silk or otherwise artificial in the winter. It's uncertain who places the flowers alongside the dog, but I have suspicions.

As the repository for all such major and minor mentions, it is my duty to update inquisitive minds about the dog.

The flowers are for a giant, devoted Newfoundland, one of the stories that makes the Quad-Cities such a trove of unusual memories.

"The dog" is one of the two most requested marker locations in Chippiannock's vast city of 23,000 dead. The other in the cemetery at 12th Street and 29th Avenue is the replica of a totem pole at the grave of Colonel George Davenport, for whom the city is named.

"The dog is a touching story. Everyone wants to know about it," says Greg Vogele, cemetery manager. The statue is a replica of an animal said to have died of a broken heart over the death of two children interred in the gravesite.

The wealthy O.J. Dimicks lived comfortably in a rose brick mansion on 21st Avenue, he a cagey entrepreneur. Their children, Eddie and Josie, were always accompanied to school by their big dog. He would wait outside, play with them at recess, and walk them home when classes had ended.

Then, 124 years ago, the Tri-Cities (before we became the Quads) was swept by a deadly epidemic of diphtheria, a disease that particularly claimed children. Death came swiftly, felling the rich and miserably poor. One day Eddie, 5, and Josie, 8, were in school. Two days later, they were dead.

Because of his affection for the children, the Dimicks allowed the dog to walk behind the horse-drawn hearse to their burial in Chippiannock Cemetery.

For several days afterward, family members visited the grave. The dog always followed. Then, the animal took up a curious habit. Every morning he would walk to the cemetery and stretch out on the gravesite, staying until dark.

"This devotion appears true," says Kim Bolyard who has become historian for the story because she lives in the restored Dimick home. The dog died less than a year after the children, said to have grieved itself to death, regularly refusing food. He was buried on the Dimick mansion acreage.

The children's father was so touched by the dog's devotion that he commissioned an artist to sketch the dog at graveside, says Kim, so that Wabash Co. of Chicago could have a sculptor create a lifesize stone replica of the pet to be placed alongside the children's graves. Yellowed clippings and records in the hands of Kim allude to "the noble brute" forever watching over "the two little ones" whose image "he revered."

One bit of the puzzle has been missing, but that may now have been cleared up. The dog's name was never officially known. Kim thought it might have been Rex, but she referred me to Earl Strupp, Bettendorf.

I visited about the matter with Strupp, who has given speeches about the dog. "My grandfather was chief of police in Rock Island. From what grandpa said, the dog's name was Ben," Strupp says.

Whether this is truth or illusory, the name of Ben would have been a good name for a noble dog like that.

Bill Wundram can be contacted at (563) 383-2249 or bwundram@qctimes.com.

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