Jim's statue close-up.

Jim The Wonder Dog Memorial Park

Field review by the editors.

Marshall, Missouri

It's rare for an entire park to be dedicated to the memory of a pet, and that's just what the town of Marshall did in 1999, when it opened Jim the Wonder Dog Memorial Park. But Jim, by all accounts, was a magical dog.

Until he was three years old, Jim was just another LLewellyn Setter. That's when his owner, Sam Van Arsdale, began to notice that the dog obeyed commands as if he could really understand English. Sam became intrigued, and started giving informal demonstrations of Jim's powers to friends and neighbors. He would tell Jim to pick out the lady in the red dress or to go find the car with license plate KU4-521 and Jim would do it, every time.

Word spread quickly. Jim and Sam soon found themselves hauled before a combined session of the state legislature in Jefferson City, where a test had been devised to debunk the dog. In order to preclude any secret signaling, a Morse code message was tapped out (Sam didn't understand Morse code) instructing Jim to walk to a certain member. Jim did it. The senators and representatives sat dumbfounded as Jim then picked out people with various traits, including the gentleman "ladies speak of as tall and handsome" and the politician that was playing cards instead of paying attention.

Jim's bronze statue.

Jim's talents reached their zenith when he developed an ability to predict the future. He could foretell the sex of unborn infants, the victors of World Series and presidential elections, and the winners of seven consecutive Kentucky Derbys. Jim was, in fact, so skilled at predicting race winners that the Van Arsdales had to cut short a vacation to Florida. They'd received a telegram threatening Jim's life if he didn't stop picking winners at the dog track.

Everyone had a theory about Jim. One group insisted that that he was a reincarnation of King Solomon. Another proclaimed that he was the devil and had cast a spell on Sam. (They arrived at this conclusion because Sam had a stroke and was paralyzed for the last 10 years of his life.)

Jim pilgrims visit the park.

Sam was constantly worried that gambling interests would steal his amazing dog. In order to keep Jim nearby Sam turned down a $364,000 offer from Paramount and another lucrative offer from a dog food company. (Jim's favorite food was cornbread.)

When Jim died in 1937, the Van Arsdales asked that he be buried in Ridge Park Cemetery. The sexton agreed to burial just outside the cemetery fence, "since Jim was smarter than most people in here, anyhow" (the cemetery eventually expanded around Jim). The Van Arsdales wanted him buried in a child's casket (they didn't have any children) but nixed the idea when they learned that Jim's legs would have to be broken to make him fit. A request from the University of Missouri for Jim's brains was denied.

According to the cemetery's current caretaker, "Every day or two, somebody visits the grave or asks where it is. No other grave gets anywhere near this much attention."

Over the next 60 years, civic pride swelled around Marshall's legendary pet. May 1st, 1999 marked the grand unveiling of the Jim the Wonder Dog Memorial Park, located on the spot where his home, Hotel Ruff, once stood on the downtown square.

The park, with its manicured plantings and shrubs, is a Zen respite surrounded by old brick buildings typical of Midwestern town centers. A brick walkway takes Jim pilgrims past a gazebo and over a trickling brook, and regular plaque stations describe Jim's amazing life and achievements. At the center is a statue of Jim.Standing in his alert gaze, you can imagine Jim telling you how to get back on the interstate to find your next destination.

In 2017, its earlier skepticism long forgotten, the Missouri State Senate officially designated Jim as, "Missouri's Wonder Dog."

Also see: Magical Animals | Roadside Pet Cemetery

RoadsideAmerica.com Team Field Report

Jim The Wonder Dog Memorial Park

Lafayette Ave., Marshall, MO
Jim The Wonder Dog Memorial Garden. I-70 exit 78 to US Hwy 65 north. Business US Hwy 65 (Odell St.) into downtown. Memorial Park is one block west of the town square.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Grave of Jim The Wonder Dog

Ridge Park Cemetery

Lafayette Ave., Marshall, MO
I-70 exit 78 to US Hwy 65. Drive north into Marshall on Business US Hwy 65 (Odell St.). Stay on Odell Street to Yerby, then east on Yerby. The road turns to the left at the stone and gated entrance to the Ridge Park Cemetery.
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Nicholas Beazley Aviation MuseumNicholas Beazley Aviation Museum, Marshall, MO - 2 mi.
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In the region:
8-Ball Water Tower, Tipton, MO - 39 mi.

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January 26, 2020

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