Read this in a Rod Serling voice: “An old woman and the family dog named Annie, off to bed for a tranquil evening of rest. Down the road, one Emerson Fay tends to his flock a final time before he, too, retires for the eve. For most, this night will be a rest- a much-needed end to the toil of the day.”
“For most, but not for all. For Annie the dog won’t spend the evening simply counting sheep. Tonight, she won’t be coming home from the backwoods. That’s the signpost up ahead: She’s headed towards the courthouse- of The Twilight Zone.”
The trial of Annie the dog for killing Emerson Fay’s sheep probably would have felt like some bizarre melodrama out of The Twilight Zone if the show had gone on air a couple of years earlier. The pup’s saga is certainly one of the weirdest court battles I’ve ever heard of, and it remains one of the most memorable ordeals to have taken place in and around Kenton’s 1915 courthouse. Anyway, that’s enough superlatives. I mean, a dog was sentenced to death for the murder of some sheep! Surely that doesn’t happen often.
Here are the facts: On the morning of February 25, 1957, a farmer named Emerson Fay woke to find several of his sheep dead. He believed that Annie -a 105-pound St. Bernard owned by the neighboring Perkins family- was the party responsible for the massacre. Though her owners strongly refuted Fay’s claims by insisting that she’d been tied up all night with no possible means of escape, Annie was ordered into county custody and eventually sentenced to death. The case received widespread coverage as friends of Ms. Perkins formed an association called the Hardin County Animal Protective League to appeal the decision.
Of course, there was another human element to the case: Young Gene Perkins had scrimped and saved his boyhood pocket money to be able to buy the dog. He loved Annie! But he was unable to come to her defense in person since, by the time of her alleged indiscretion, he was a private first class stationed for duty in Augsburg, Germany. The plight of an enlisted man’s beloved childhood pet captured the hearts of people as far away as Long Beach, California and Perkins’ camp in Europe. Supportive letters and funds poured in from near and far as Annie awaited her fate at a local kennel.
I don’t know the history of the kennel that Annie whiled away her hours in, but I do know that the courthouse where her fate was adjudicated a pensioner ago is Hardin County’s third. The first structure, different from most of its era as it was built of brick, measured 30×40 feet, rose two stories, and was completed in 1835. A hallway bisected the first floor into two rooms containing the county auditor and clerk, and court was held in the second story. The local sheriff was said to have “his office in his hat1” though eventually a two-room frame structure was built south of the courthouse to provide space for the recorder and treasurer. This arrangement, though spartan, worked well enough until the buildings were all destroyed by an early-morning fire on March 4, 1853.
Though poor Annie’s great-great-granddog was never implicated in starting the blaze, who really knows for certain? Nevertheless, officials didn’t waste time planning a new courthouse from their temporary, rented quarters. The county’s second was finished the following year, though the square that it sat on wasn’t completely graded until 1857. The courthouse was Greek Revival, two stories, and was 74×51 feet. Its main entrances, facing east and west, both terminated in open vestibules supported to enormous, stone, columns2. A three-story belfry surmounted the building’s roof and was capped with a brass globe and a weather vane.
The current courthouse, completed in 1915 upon the expiration of its predecessor, is much more ornate than either of the prior two. As one of Ohio’s largest, it’s competitive with any of its Beaux Arts and Second Empire peers in the surrounding counties. Seven bays wide3 on its primary north and south faces, the building’s opposing facades are all symmetrical and built of Indiana limestone atop a rusticated raised basement.
Here’s a fun fact: Hardin County was home to Jacob Parrot, the first recipient of the Medal of Honor, the United States Government’s highest military decoration awarded to those who have distinguished themselves through valorous acts. Parrot was one of nineteen men who, during the Civil War, captured a train in Big Shanty, Georgia in order to try and destroy the railroad infrastructure between Chattanooga and Atlanta in what later became known as the 1862 Great Locomotive Chase4. Perhaps in his honor, the current courthouse contains an unusual “Veteran’s Hall,” where fraternal organizations like the United Spanish War Veterans and Grand Army of the Republic once met5. For us Hoosiers, the building closely resembles courthouses in Auburn and Danville, with a central projection and triangular pediment supported by Ionic columns back outside. A balustrade tops the flat roof, which hides certain exterior elements necessary for a real treat within the building’s walls:
Like many neoclassical midwestern courthouses, the interior of Hardin County’s is much more elaborate than it appears from the street. But unlike its cousins that feature a glass rotunda, courthouse in Kenton’s crowning attribute is an enormous, barrel-vaulted skylight of stained glass that illuminates a three-story lobby and measures seven feet tall, forty-nine feet long, and twenty-three feet wide. It’s a phenomenal space, as is the building’s courtroom, which features a smaller skylight that “only” measures 33×196. If combined, both skylights make up 75% of the floor space of the county’s first courthouse, which was spread out over two stories! If you’re a fan of architecture, I’d urge you to go see it, though it might be wise to find a way inside that doesn’t involve your dog being put on trial.
Speaking of Annie, after several months, Judge Arthur Tudor dissolved a temporary injunction that prevented the county dog warden from destroying the pooch7, but the warden’s past conduct -including allegations that he had privately sold a different dog after it’d been surrendered to him for destruction8– came to light as the Animal Protective League traded barbs with the county prosecutor, who suggested that they give some consideration to the inhumane treatment of the sheep that were killed if they were truly concerned with the ethical treatment of animals. “We are not a club sponsoring sheepkilling!” a spokeswoman declared in response9.
But all’s well that ends well! Eventually, the court of appeals granted a permanent injunction against the dog’s execution on the grounds that, even if she had killed Emerson Fay’s sheep, she hadn’t been caught in the act of doing so. After fifteen months of “living in the executioner’s shadow10,” Annie was a free dog! She returned to family custody before Gene was discharged and claimed her in July of 1958. Presumably, Annie lived the rest of her life contentedly in the company of her loyal owners and away from any tempting ungulates.
As a fan of county courthouses because of their monumental architecture, the aspects of their practical and intended usage sometimes flies right over my head. There is a human element to each of these buildings related to those who work, transact business, and come to justice in our historic courthouses. Sometimes -and especially with regards to the Hardin County Courthouse in Kenton- that factor of humanity is actually a canine one.
Let’s do the Rod Serling voice one more time to wrap things up: “It’s a dog-eat-sheep world, but the truth never damages a cause that is just. In the case of one Alice the St. Bernard, the moral duty that is justice prevailed in her favor. A quizzical outcome when prevailing against people, one only found- in the Twilight Zone.”
“I mean, Hardin County.”
Hardin County (pop. 31,425, 72/88)
Lima (pop. 8,284)
Cost: $275,000 ($7.19 million today)
Architect: Richards, McCarty & Bulford
Courthouse Square: Shelbyville Square
Height: 3 stories
Current Use: County offices and courts
1 “The History of Hardin County, Ohio” Warner, Beers & Co. [Chicago]. 1883. Print.
2 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map- Kenton, Ohio. 1911. Sanborn Fire Insurance Company. Library of Congress. Web. Retrieved 1/31/21.
3 Owen, Lorrie K., ed. “Dictionary of Ohio Historic Places.” Volume 2. North American Book Distribution, LLC. 2008. Print.
4 “PARROTT, JACOB, Civil War Medal of Honor recipient”. American Civil War. Central Design Lab. Web, Retrieved 1/31/21.
5 “Hardin County Courthouse” The Supreme Court of Ohio & The Ohio Judicial System. The Supreme Court of Ohio [Columbus]. Web. Retrieved 1/31/21.
6 Thrane, Susan W., Patterson, B., & Patterson, T. “County Courthouses of Ohio” Indiana University Press [Bloomington]. November 1, 2000. Print.
7 “Sheep-Killing Dog Ordered Executed” The Chillicothe Gazette [Chillicothe]. May 21, 1957. 11. Print.
8 “Hardin Animal Association Readies Action on Hattery” The Lima News [Lima]. September 17, 1957. 1. Print.
9 “Annie’s Owner Says: ‘First…I Cried, and Then I Swore” The Lima News [Lima]. March 31, 1957. 1. Print.
10 “Dog Named Annie Awarded Freedom” The Wilmington News-Journal [Wilmington]. June 3, 1958. 1. Print.