Pup brought ‘Miles of Smiles’ to railroad

06/17/2010 12:00 AM |


Zachary Miltner, 10, and his brother Matthew, 5, of Greenlawn, meet Heather Worthington, the author of ‘Miles of Smiles: The Story of Roxey, the Long Island Rail Road Dog,’ at the Rail Road Museum of Long Island in Greenport on Saturday. Helping out at the table with book sales was Bob Mintz, a trustee of the museum.

The Long Island Rail Road hasn’t always been exclusive to humans.

In 1901, a young mutt named Roxey boarded the train at Garden City and discovered a world of smoke and whistles few dogs ever experience. That was the first of many trips for Roxey, whose adventures are now immortalized in Southold resident Heather Worthington’s newest book, “Miles of Smiles: The Story of Roxey, the Long Island Rail Road Dog.”

“When I first came across the idea, I thought it would be a great way to get kids excited about reading history and stories,” Ms. Worthington said. “I’ve always loved history, and it’s always fun to have kids really love a good book.”

The book’s East End release, held at both the Riverhead and Greenport railroad museums Saturday, attracted families from across Long Island and showcased living history reenactments of 19th century personalities, including Teddy Roosevelt and a mysterious “parasol lady” believed to have first lured Roxey onto that train at Garden City. After his first ride, railroad workers adopted Roxey and gave him a tag that said he could ride anywhere he wanted on the LIRR.

The book promotion got started at the Railroad Museum of Long Island in Riverhead, where participants boarded the train to hear Ms. Worthington’s story read aloud as they traveled to Greenport. At Greenport, “Teddy Roosevelt” delivered an impromptu speech while Ms. Worthington signed copies of her book.

“Well, you know, Roxey does have a free pass on the railroad. I saw it myself,” said Sea Cliff resident James Foot, who portrayed Teddy Roosevelt at the book launch. “And he’s a bully well-behaved dog. “Besides, there’s enough room on this business coach for two important people — myself and Roxey. Bully for Roxey!”

The story centers on an actual event: the day Roxey, a brown and white street dog already adopted by Garden City railroaders as station mascot, got into President Roosevelt’s private car and curled up on his bed. Mr. Roosevelt, who was on his way to his family home in Oyster Bay, ignored the porter’s pleas to tell the dog to scram. Instead, when Mr. Roosevelt reached Oyster Bay, he invited Roxey to join him on the platform at the back of the train, where a large crowd waited to greet the president.

“There really was a dog named Roxey who was adopted by the railroaders, and this dog really did have a tag that said he could ride anywhere on the LIRR,” said museum president Don Fisher. “It really did happen that the dog got up on Teddy’s lap. Magazine and newspapers articles were written about this dog.”

After Roxey’s encounter with President Roosevelt, he continued to ride the railroad for another 15 years, greeting passengers with a warm smile and even posing for a postcard picture that passengers could mail to family members. The legendary mutt, who is still remembered — at least in name — by elderly Long Islanders, is buried just south of the LIRR’s Merrick station, adjacent to Sunrise Highway.

“He was really good,” said 7-year-old Serenity Harrison, a Riverhead resident who took her first train ride during the book launch. “Roxey doesn’t bite,” she decided after hearing the story, “and the train ride was fun.”

“It was just like Thomas the tank engine!” chimed in Serenity’s 4-year-old brother, Javis, who also took his first train ride during the launch.

Although “Miles of Smiles” appeals to a wide range of audiences, Ms. Worthington initially found it difficult to sell to publishers.

“There are railroaders and dog lovers across the country, but among the big publishers, some of them actually suggested that I take away the towns on Long Island, take away the name of the railroad and everything that made it local,” she said. “Otherwise, they saw it as a local story, and they didn’t want to sell it. I don’t think they anticipated all the excitement we’ve been seeing over this book.”

She found a small publishing house, Blue Marlin Publications in West Bay Shore, that left the book just the way it was.

Shortly before its release, Amazon.com listed “Miles of Smiles” among its “hottest new children’s books,” Ms. Worthington said. The book’s publisher, Francine Rich, is working to put Roxey on the shelves of as many major booksellers as possible, including Borders and Barnes and Noble.

“What attracted me to the book was that it was about a dog, about trains and about Long Island,” Ms. Rich said. “Anyone who loves Teddy Roosevelt, or who’s a history buff, or who loves trains and dogs would read it. It’s been very well received by Long Islanders.”

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