Cartoon Archeology is not an exact science . . . actually. It’s not even a science. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the period in which John Bray went all Green Acres is so difficult to excavate. Forensics begin with a news article dated March 9th, 1909 in the Poughkeepsie Eagle News.
The deed to the property reveals a bit more.
On the next census John Bray declared himself a fruit farmer.
Until recently we’ve been searching for the Bray farm in the wrong place, if anyone was searching at all. Common belief, based on incorrect info from a Bray descendant, put the farm in Highland Falls, New York. In reality, it was located across the Hudson River from Poughkeepsie, in Highland NY, part of the town of Lloyd.
I received this deed from the Ulster County Clerk in Kingston. The following photos were provided by the town of Lloyd’s historian Joan Kelley with this caveat
Based on my research, the research done by the others copied on this note and the copies of the deeds you sent, I am FAIRLY CERTAIN these are the photographs of the buildings that were on the property described in the deeds. I have not visited the site, but I understand all these buildings have been torn down.
These seem to show the front and back of what I think would be the main house.
These two houses are near each other.
There’s a barn.
And some other buildings.
The Bray farm is of interest because it is probably the first place in the world where a production facility was set up for the express purpose of making animated short films. I had assumed that the live-action portion of THE ARTIST’S DREAM was filmed on the farm, but I don’t see three windows in a row like in the movie on any of the buildings in the photos.
The animation of the dachshund is said to have been done in John Bray’s studio on the farm. This led to Pathé contracting Bray to make the COLONEL HEEZA LIAR series. Expenses incurred in producing the cartoon series seems to have disrupted Bray’s finances.
Eight COLONEL HEEZA LIAR cartoons were released before Bray moved production off the farm and into a Manhattan studio. During that time John and Margaret kept an apartment a block from Columbia University’s campus . . . leading us to –
MARGARET BRAY AND COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY
Bray family tradition also holds that while John worked on THE ARTIST’S DREAM Margaret was the family bread-winner. Bray family tradition also holds that Margaret worked for Columbia University as a translator. I checked with Columbia three times and they have no record of this.
From what I understand, Columbia University was involved in preparations for the First World War. Perhaps Margaret was there to translate German documents for some classified military intelligence program. The Brays did have an apartment in 1914 one block from campus at 350 West 113TH Street. Columbia eventually bought that building for student housing. The Brays a block from there in 1915, remaining in close proximity to the university.
So, faulty memories not withstanding, it appears Margaret Bray had some connection to Columbia University. As evidence for this thesis I present the following real estate notices from New York newspapers.
What is interesting is that this building was situated two short blocks north of Columbia’s campus. Furthermore, the New York Life Insurance Company Margaret bought it from had the University’s president Nicholas Murray Butler on its board of directors.
Again, bought from Nicholas Murray Butler’s group. Barely a stone’s-throw from the school. During this same period Bray Studios board member/legal counsel Watson B. Robinson went into real estate as well with his Lower New York Realty Corporation. Robinson was a close friend of John Bray, and Robinson’s real estate partners were all involved with the studio in some manner.
To me this all indicates some link between Margaret Bray and Columbia University, though I’m not sure what it is. Anyway, Margaret began flipping the properties, so perhaps she was just a go-between.
June 1919, another building in the immediate vicinity –
The Brays seem to have abandoned Highland NY by this time for Norwalk, Connecticut on a plot of land they would dub Braybourne.
The family donated boxes of documents to the Library of Congress, so perhaps some answers are contained there. Maybe some pictures of the farm that could confirm these. I’m told by an extremely reliable source that a collector showed him moving footage of the Bray farm. I asked that collector about it and they would neither confirm nor deny the existence of such film.
Perhaps Joan Kelley, historian for Highland NY will be able to unearth some answers. Her contact info is:
(845) 691-2144 x108