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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Fictitious and Exotic (Pets in the Archives Series: 3 of 3)

The Charles Lang Freer Papers, 1876-1931 contain the papers of the industrialist and art collector. The image to the right is part of a larger news clipping titled, "Charles L. Freer Teaches a Pet Crocodile to Play Golf" The Detroit News Tribune, November 24th, 1907. The article appears to be a satire piece on Detroit's elite business men whom make up the Yondotega Club. In the article they are referred to as the "Nature Fakers;" and although the article's true purpose is lost it still provides a humorous read on Freer's fictitious pet crocodile Hilmi Jr. Below is a transcription of the article recounting Freer's speech at the Nature Fakers gathering, as he explains the story of his crocodile.


There was expectancy in the air when the members of the Nature Fakers club settled down finally to the serious portion of the evening’s program. The chairman’s face fairly beamed and all present could see that something more than ordinary purport was certainly doing. They were not long in waiting for enlightenment.

“Fellow fakers”, began the chairman, “we have a rare treat in store for us tonight. In fact, I may say with too much of exaggeration that what we will listen to will be forever indelibly stamped on our memories. The gentleman whom I have induced to join our honorable club and become heart and soul one of us , is one of the most distinguished globe trotters in the first ward, a gentleman who knows the ins and out and every nook of the blue “ Mediterranean far better than he does the marshes of Grosse Pointe and the River Rouge; a gentleman who-----“

“Don’t keep us in suspense this way, Mr. Chairman,” said Herman A. Rolsnoven. “Trot out this gentleman and let him speak for himself.”

“Just be patient a moment,” Herman, replied the chairman. I cannot tell you the pleasure I experience in introducing this distinguished gentleman. I will do as you suggest. I now take extreme gratification in presenting to his honorable club our fellow-citizen, Charles L. Freer.”

The announcement was greeted with deafening applause. It was an unexpected treat to have Mr. Freer present and ready to regale the club with a few gems of thought. Members leaped to their feet, waved their glasses in the air and acted like a cloud of hurrah boys out for a lark. The noise and excitement lasted for a full minute.

“Three cheers for Charles L. Freer,” shouted Congressman Denby, mounting the table and shouting with a vim that completely faded all recollection on the days when he was the head push of the University of Michigan aggregation of foot ball players. The three cheers were given with a resounding vehemence.

And a Tiger, Too.

“And now a tiger!” shouted Karl R. Davies, bubbling over enthusiasm.

The rafters of the room fairly shook with the uproar. During all the hubbub, Mr. Freer stood modestly with bowed head, silent, yet grateful at the spontaneous tribute paid him by the members of the club. When all the noise had subsided he began to speak with a voice choking with emotion and just the suspicion of a tear in his eye.\

“Fellow-fakers,” said Mr. Freer, I am overwhelmed with the sincerity of this demonstration. It is a thousand more times than I deserve or expected, and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I realize the great and valuable contributions this honorable club is making to the advancement of natural science and I earnestly feel it my duty to do, in my small way, what I can to help the good cause along.

“As you all are probably aware, I had a villa on the Island of Capri, in the Mediterranean, and the scene of my story is laid in the most delightful spot, that really resembles the Garden of the Gods. Some years since, while spending a few charming weeks with my good friend, Abbas Hilmi----

“Just what was that name again, Mr. Freer” inquired Frank Scott Clark.

“Why, I am surprised at your ignorance, Mr. Clark,” replied Mr. Freer, with visible manifestations of impatience. “I said Abbas Hilmi, son of Mohamed Tewfik, seventh ruler of the dynasty of Mehemet Ali. In other words, the khedive of Egypt.”


During my stay with Abbas,” continued Mr. Freer, “ he presented me with a cute little crocodile, which had been captured in the Nile. He was a bright young specimen and I took to him right away, just like a brother. I named him Hilmi, Jr., after the khedive.

Takes Hilmi to Capri.

“Well, when I returned to Capri I took Hilmi, Jr., with me and he had great fun sporting around the island, and he grew so rapidly and developed so finely along intelligent lines that he became one of the show features of the island. I trained him very carefully, fed him myself and even selected his food, which he would take from my hand.”

“A crocodile eat from your hand, Mr. Freer? Were you not afraid that he would make a little slip sometime and nip off your entire arm?” inquired James E. Kennedy.

“Not a bit of it,” replied Mr. Freer, “I tell you Hilmi, Jr., wasn’t that sort of a crocodile. He knew a great deal more than some human beings with whose acquaintance I have been inflicted at various times in my career.”

“I don’t doubt that at all,” interposed Dr. William H. Morley. The innocent manner in which Dr. Morley had injected this remark seemed to leave Mr. Freer in doubt as to whether or not there might be some subtle meaning attached to it, but he continued:

“Hilmi, Jr., used to follow me about my estate just like a puppy and wherever I went he went.”

“Something like Mary and her little lamb, eh?” suggested Malcom McIntyre.

“Well, you might put it that way, if you choose,” answered Mr. Freer, “for I can assure you his devotion was just as strong as that which report attributes to the famous lamb, I never went out for a little turn at the golf links that Hilmi, Jr., was not Johnny-on-the-spot, and he was not only there, but he seemed to thoroughly enjoy the game. He watched every stroke, followed the ball and was a peach on finding it, if it became lost.

“Finally, to my great surprise, I found Hilmi, Jr., on the links one day switching his tail around at a terrific rate and making the dirt fly in perfect clouds every time he hit the ground. I watched him closely for a time and was amazed to discover that he was trying to drive a ball.

Learns to Play Golf.

“And he was successful, too, for finally he landed right on the sphere and sent it flying through the air with a whirl that would have done credit to John D. Rockfeller or Willie Way. When Hilmi, Jr., saw that he made a successful stroke, his enthusiasm knew no bounds. He danced around, laughed in his crocodile fashion and cut up antics that were positively funny to witness.

“But it set me to thinking-why not teach him the game properly? With me to think is to act, and I began to give Hilmi, Jr., regular instruction. I soon came to the conclusion that if he were to become an expert he would have to learn to handle a stick instead of depending on that clumsy tail of his. This was a problem at first, because it was perfectly evident that he couldn’t hold a golf stick in his feet. But finally, I hit on the happy idea of attaching the sticks to his tail by means of hollow ends which fitted right over the tip and were securely fastened with steel bands. In this way, he could use any sort of a stick that the exigencies of the game demanded

“His progress from then on was simply wonderful, and I actually found myself in the rather unique position of acting as caddy to that crocodile. He learned all the ins and out of the game, too, and his stroke, after he acquired the knack of manipulating his tail properly with the added incumbrance, became perfect. All I had to do was to carry the bundle of sticks around and change them on the end of his tail as the progressed.”

“You don’t mean to say, Mr. Freer,” inquired Director A.H. Griffith, of the Museum of Art, “that Hilmi, Jr., knew when to use one stick and when another? Surely you must have made the selections for him.”

“No, Sir, I did nothing of the sort,” replied Mr. Freer, “If I happened to put the wrong stick on the end of his tail he raised a regular rough house until it was changed. You couldn’t fool him for a minute. Why, I tell you, he was an expert.

Used All The Sticks.

“He would start out with a driver; then would follow up with a brassey; and he always knew that a mashie was the proper caper with which to get out of a bunker.”

“Did he know enough to cut the ball out of rough ground with a niblick?” asked Victor F. Dewey, the gas man.

“Yes, sir, just as well as you or I,” replied Mr. Freer, “and he would always drive on a short hole with a cleek and hole in with a putter. Then we used to have great matches, Hilmi, Jr., and I, and he was so expert that it was not long before he could beat me to a frazzle. Of course, I know that it is rather humiliating to admit that a crocodile could whip you at golf, but it is actually so, and I would not for worlds misrepresent facts to Hilmi, Jr.’s discredit. Finally I used to enter him in all the tournaments around the Mediterranean, but eventually he was ruled out by jealous rivals who passed as human beings. They were jealous of his skill that is what they were, and hated to own that a crocodile could show them pointers on a game devised essentially for man.”

“What became of this wonder, Mr. Freer?” inquired Mr. Davies. “Why did you not bring him to Detroit and enter him against Jacob S. Farrand, Jr., at the Country club, or some of the other crack players around these woods?”

“Well, I thought some of that,” replied Mr. Freer, “but when I returned to America my trunk was so filled with paintings and other rare works of art, that there was no room for Himli, Jr.”

“But you wouldn’t have been able to put him in a trunk, would you?” inquired Congressman Denby.

“No, perhaps not,” replied Mr. Freer. “I spoke in a figurative sense only, meaning that I was so loaded down with other stuff that I did not believe I could give proper attention to the crocodile, and he was an animal that would not tolerate neglect, not Hilmi, Jr.”

“Gentlemen,” began the chairman, “I think that, with all due respect to Mr. Freer, he is open to a trifle of criticism in not bringing Hilmi, Jr., to Detroit. Why, if we had an educated crocodile in our midst, such a one as Hilmi, Jr., is, we would have Newport and its monkey parties backed off the edge of the precipice. It is certainly a distinct loss to the town and I intend to take the matter up with the Board of Commerce and see whether Hilmi, Jr. cannot be sent for; you would have no objection to that, would you, Mr. Freer?”

“Certainly not,” replied Mr. Freer. “I would be only too glad to co-operate in such a project. There is a good yard up at the Yondotega club where he could be kept when he was not playing golf.”

Here the meeting broke up in a riot of applause for Mr. Freer, and he was cheered again and again to the echo for his exhibition of public spirit.

Rachael Cristine Woody
Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives


  1. I love this story! What a great clipping to find in the archives! Was Freer always a fan of satire?

  2. Freer was a very multifaceted man, but I believe he was a great appreciator of satire and wit. He did not suffer fools gladly, as seen in his tremendous correspondence.