Coar-Toon Rehash
August 1, 2022 posted by Bob Coar

John Bray – Fruit Farmer

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 –

THE NEXT MYSTERY:
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.

AUGUST 1918

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.

SEPTEMBER 1918

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.

April 1919

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:

jkelley@townoflloyd.com

(845) 691-2144 x108

3 Comments

  • Those photos of the buildings on the former Bray property were obviously taken at a much later date, as evidenced by the TV antenna on the roof of the farmhouse. The roof of the barn has caved in, and the property seems to be in a state of general disrepair. If Bray ever made good on his plans to construct a studio on the farm, as reported in the newspaper, then it must have been torn down before those photos were taken.

    These deeds are actually for three different properties: one in the Town of Lloyd, another in the adjacent Town of Plattekill, and a third at the opposite end of Ulster County in the Town of Saugerties. The studio shown in “The Artist’s Dream” is a fairly substantial edifice with high ceilings and large windows to admit natural light. It’s not the sort of building one would find ready-made on a farm in rural New York State, where putting up storm windows was an annual winter ritual. Would the construction of such a studio on any of these properties have required a building permit? If so, there’s bound to be one on file if the studio had actually been built. If there’s no record of a studio being built on any of Bray’s Ulster County properties, then those scenes in “An Artist’s Dream” were probably shot at a studio in the city. While I applaud you for setting the record straight as to the location of the Brays’ Highland Farm, I don’t see any hard evidence that “a production facility… for the express purpose of making animated short films” was ever established there. You can’t go by what “family tradition holds”, or what a rural newspaper says about what someone plans to do.

    Likewise, the Bray family’s claim that Margaret worked as a translator for Columbia University doesn’t make sense. Translating is notoriously low-paid work — I used to do it for beer — and it’s not something a woman who was making a fortune buying and selling New York City apartment buildings would engage in, especially considering that Columbia has a renowned German department, and that German was very widely spoken in the United States prior to World War I. Now, in 1911 Columbia’s Department of Germanic Languages established Deutsches Haus, the first foreign language house at any university in the world, in a building on West 117th Street (now in a brownstone on W. 116th). Deutsches Haus hosts a variety of lectures, cultural events, social functions and so on, all in the German language and open to the general public. It’s reasonable to assume that Margaret Bray and her German-born son Paul would have been regular attendees at Deutsches Haus events, as it was right in their immediate neighbourhood, and that their descendants knew of a connection with Columbia University and the German language but drew the wrong conclusion.

  • Now the important question is, was it Colonel Heezaliar or Colonel Heeza Liar?

    I prefer the run-on version myself. Sounds like Eleazar or some old guy’s Biblical handle. The two-word version, though more common, is too obvious: oh “he’s a liar, har har”.

    Likely though that no one at the studio cared either way.

  • Prior to…prior to…JR e as a cartoonist for Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He lived in a boarding house in Brooklyn with a large veranda facing to the street. While sitting on this veranda with his buddy, ( Ed Theiler? ) two lovely ladies, hats sporting the style of the times, parasolls in hand, strolled past, Margaret Till and her sister, Christina. JR reportedly announced, “I shall marry that one” , Ed followed, “and I shall marry the othet”. and They did so!!!)+)]

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