File this one under “Fort Worth History/East Side/Urban Legends/Pet Cemeteries/Carloads of Teenagers/Beach Boys and Birdshot.”
Most urban legends have an element of truth.
For example, in 1969 some of the people who claimed to have seen Goatman really saw something, even if it was just hoaxers with a mask. In 1961 three Arlington teenage girls really were killed at a bridge, even if the bridge that today is known as “Screaming Bridge” is three thousand feet from the accident scene. And Pete the python was real in 1954, even if he wasn’t coiled up in my neighbor’s juniper bush and poised to squeeze me like a tube of Ipana.
And so it is with Dogman.
Although the name “Dogman” conjures images of some terrifying half man-half mastiff mutant, the name stems from the fact (1) that Dogman guarded a pet cemetery where dogs, among other pets, were buried, and/or (2) that Dogman guarded the cemetery backed by a posse of (live) dogs.
For Poly teenagers during an undetermined period of time—but certainly in the late 1960s—a trip out to the pet cemetery east of Arlington Lake to rouse Dogman from his lair was an adventure, a rite of Parrot passage. An encounter with Dogman on a Saturday night made for many a good yarn in homeroom on Monday morning.
The pet cemetery was located on Perkins Road. In the 1960s Poly kids could reach the cemetery by two routes—the Northern Route and the Southern Route.
1. Northern Route (Rosedale Street): Start with a Coke and fries at the Clover drive-in restaurant, then drive east past the high school and the business block of East Rosedale and TWC, past Clark’s discount store, the Texas Electric power plant with the giant Reddy Kilowatt, Handley Cemetery, right onto Arkansas Lane, past Ebenezer Cemetery, over the dam, past Fun in the Sun country club, and then south on Perkins Road.
2. Southern Route (Mansfield Highway): Start with a D.Q. Sandwich and a Dilly Bar at the Dairy Queen, then drive east past the VFW post with the Nike Hercules missile, past the bars (Mary’s Truck Stop, Jo’s Drop-In, Goldie’s, Starlite Western Club, Eight Twenty Bar) and the wrecking yards (Al’s, Jordan’s, Sargent’s), over Village Creek to Bowman Springs Road and then north to Perkins Road.
To my knowledge, very few Poly kids went out to the pet cemetery alone.
No, they went in carloads on a double-dog dare (“I will if you will,” “Well, I will if you will”). There is safety in numbers, and fear is more delicious when shared.
Sometimes carloads of girls went, sometimes carloads of boys, their apprehension leavened by intermittent chatter about selected members of the opposite sex.
And sometimes couples went out to the pet cemetery as part of a romantic date: First came the roller-coaster hills of Perkins Road, Bowman Springs Road, Pleasant Ridge Road. Those country roads were narrow and dark—like tunnels of love. Maybe a full moon overhead. Maybe the Lettermen or the Beach Boys playing on the eight-track deck.
And then came the climax: a drive along Perkins Road to the pet cemetery with its promise of goosebumps and “Get me out of here!”
Even if Dogman was a no-show, the anticipation that he might show could cause a boy’s date, in those days—and nights—of front bench seats, to scootch over during the drive home.
If the boy’s steering wheel had a necker knob, so much the better.
Dogman as Cupid.
Recently some Poly kids of the 1960s recalled their experiences:
Gary: “I made several trips out to the pet cemetery with dates, always scared the girls. . . . did see a man that told us that we were trespassing. Always went at night, did go one Sunday morning just to see what it really looked like in the day. We walked around and looked at some of the graves and the small headstones. . . . it looked altogether different in the daylight . . . I think that everyone from Poly went out there if nothing else just to go over Roller Coaster Hill that Bowman Springs Road had to offer.”
David remembered “going there fast on the roller coaster hills and then, if you didn’t brake hard or make the sharp curve, you would crash into the Dogman’s cemetery, and he would get you—if you survived the crash. . . . The trip there and the anticipation and fear was huge—great place to add excitement to driving girls around and scaring them.”
Barbara: “I went a few times with different people. I think I went both at night and during the day. I remember driving down a dirt road and coming to an open area that was maybe 40X40 feet. There were a lot of scraggly trees and undergrowth around. In my mind’s eye, there was a shack at about 2:00 p.m. Supposedly that was where Dogman stayed. He was supposed to have long, wild hair. We would walk up towards the shack but get scared and run back.”
Linda: “Everyone who talked about it said there was a large tree in the center of the road going in. You had to go on one side or the other. The story was the back side of the tree had been damaged many times when kids were trying to get out of the cemetery after Dogman appeared.”
Steve: “After throwing Sunday papers, Doug, Russell, and I went to the cemetery. Russell stayed in the car, and Doug and I walked up the road to the house. Doug went up and knocked on the door. About that time we heard a gunshot and turned and saw an old man with a lot of dogs running towards us. We ran through the woods to the road, and moments later we heard Russell what seemed like laying rubber in the sand. Don’t think we ever went back.”
Mark: “He had khaki color pants and a wrinkled short sleeve shirt on, keys in his hand, but that’s just about all I could see while the backup lights were on. We backed until we bumped into the gate. . . . Gate was still locked, but he looked like he was going to open it. It did look like he had a beard. Couldn’t see his face real good. . . . Seen him at the gate once. It was locked, and we had backed all the way down to it. He was standing at it. Did not take us long haul back up that road and barely missed the big tree in the middle of the road.”
Marsha: “It was a scary place back in the late sixties! That old man would shoot [rock?] salt at you with a shotgun and chase you away!”
And a 1967 Poly classmate years later told me that Dogman had shot him with birdshot, requiring the extraction of pellets from a leg.
But enough fun! Now for some facts. In researching Dogman, I learned that his pet cemetery was named “Shady Rest” and that it had opened when we Polyites were Polyettes: in 1953.
And I unearthed a surprising fact: In 1971—four years after I left behind Poly High and tales of Dogman—I had worked alongside the founder and owner of Shady Rest Pet Cemetery. Karl Read was news editor of the morning Star-Telegram. His desk was twelve feet from mine.
Karl Read was a tall, thin, melancholy man with deep-set eyes. He would have made a good Dogman.
But he had a perfect alibi. First, he lived way over in Arlington Heights—a long way from Shady Rest. Second, he had a fulltime night job: He worked at the newspaper from 4 p.m. to midnight.
Come to find out, Karl Read also was a pet lover. That’s why he had started the cemetery: He did not want his own deceased pets to be disposed of unceremoniously, and he knew that many other pet owners felt the same way.
But the nearest pet cemetery was in Dallas. And Karl knew that a Fort Worth pet could never rest in peace in Dallas.
So, in 1953 Karl and his wife bought—or possibly leased—a two-acre “landscaped grove of oaks” east of Lake Arlington.
When Shady Rest Pet Cemetery opened in 1953 the Star-Telegram wrote that “complete service will be offered, including pickup and caskets.”
Shady Rest Pet Cemetery, the Star-Telegram said, was located “three miles southeast of Handley on Perkins-Turner Road,” which today is just “Perkins Road.” Perkins Road is only two miles long, running south from Arkansas Lane at the T. Perkins survey to Pleasant Ridge Road at the J. T. Turner survey. (Note to the north Lake Erie and surveys of Sarah Gray Jennings, R. R. Ramey, and Middleton Tate Johnson. “S. H. No 1” was State Highway No. 1/East Lancaster Avenue/Dallas Pike/Bankhead Highway/U.S. 80.)
Karl Read, way over in Arlington Heights, could not take care of the cemetery himself, so he hired a caretaker, at least in the beginning. The Star-Telegram wrote: “Dave Cornelius, Negro, LOckwood-0131, is caretaker.” LOckwood, as you may recall, was an East Side telephone exchange replaced in 1956 by JEfferson.
Dave Cornelius, born in 1902, lived in the Stop 6 neighborhood during most of the time the cemetery was in operation. He worked most of his life as a porter and janitor. (In 1952 he was janitor of the Varsity Theater.) I suspect that Cornelius worked at the pet cemetery only on an as-needed basis.
This script is from a feature about the cemetery on WBAP-TV Texas News in 1960.
But Karl Read stopped advertising his pet cemetery in Star-Telegram classified ads in January 1966.
Four months later his wife died.
In 1972 Karl died. I suspect that at that point his heirs closed the cemetery to new burials, although Dogman may have stayed on.
Like any good urban legend, the legend of Dogman raises more questions than it answers.
For example, double-dog-darers encountered Dogman at the cemetery during both daytime and nighttime excursions.
Why would a pet cemetery of only two acres need a day-and-night caretaker?
As the WBAP-TV script indicates, by 1960 the cemetery had two hundred graves. But over seven years since its founding in 1953 that is an average of only twenty-eight burials a year, fewer than three a month.
And in 1963 Shady Rest got some competition: Bluebonnet Pet Cemetery opened south of Arlington.
In contrast to Shady Rest, Bluebonnet Pet Cemetery by 1977 had four thousand graves.
The Star-Telegram said Shady Rest Pet Cemetery was a “hobby” for Read. He didn’t open the cemetery to make money. With so few burials, Karl Read surely could not afford to pay—and indeed had no need for—a fulltime caretaker.
And yet there was Dogman waving his shotgun day and night.
Just as I am sure that Karl Read was not Dogman, I am equally sure that “Dave Cornelius, Negro,” the pet cemetery’s first caretaker, was not Dogman. In the 1960s a black man shaking a shotgun at a carload of white kids would have been a prime element of the legend.
Further, the fact that kids encountered Dogman during both daytime and nighttime visits suggests that Dogman lived nearby: He was always around to keep an eye on the cemetery. And yet he surely was not in the paid employ of Karl Read.
Also, the cemetery apparently did not border Perkins Road. Rather, visitors reached the cemetery via a private dirt road from Perkins Road.
So, who would be in a position to look after the pet cemetery day and night on a voluntary basis, perhaps even after Karl Read died?
My own theory is that Dogman was a man who lived in a house located very near the dirt driveway that connected the cemetery to Perkins Road. The man, perhaps as a favor to Read (who may have bought or leased the cemetery land from him) kept an eye on the driveway to the cemetery and ran off visitors—especially at night—who, he deemed, had come out there just to rile him, not to lay a wreath at the grave of Fido or Fluffy.
This aerial photo shows that even in 1968 Perkins Road remained sparsely developed. Based on old newspaper clippings, old maps, and the recollections of people who ventured out to the pet cemetery, my best guess is that Shady Rest was the circled land. The inset shows that the circled land (1) was connected to Perkins Road by a tree-lined driveway (yellow line), (2) passed near a house (H) from which a (Dog?)man could keep an eye on the driveway to the cemetery day and night (C), and (3) was surrounded by trees.
But during the 1970s the suburbs spread west from central Arlington, vacuuming up farmland along Perkins Road. Karl Read or his heirs sold the cemetery land or ended his lease on it. The owner of the cemetery land, along with other small farmers along Perkins Road, sold out to developers.
Developers can’t just bulldoze and pave over a people cemetery, but apparently there were no such protections for a pet cemetery. I find no evidence that the remains buried at Shady Rest were relocated when the property was developed.
In 1976 Shady Rest Pet Cemetery became part of Mission Ridge Estates, and Dogman became part of East Side lore.
(Thanks to Linda Wood Campbell for her help.)