Jim's statue close-up and historical photos.
Jim's statue close-up and historical photos.

Jim the Wonder Dog Memorial Garden

Field review by the editors.

Marshall, Missouri

Several "wonder dogs" enjoyed fame in the ballyhoo decade of the 1920s, including Bobbie, Rex, and Balto, and each has left a faint scent-trail on the American landscape. But Jim the Wonder Dog was the most wondrous of all, so amazing that his hometown built an entire park in his honor, with a bronze statue and numerous plaques describing the scope of his remarkable powers.

Jim's bronze statue.

Jim could apparently understand multiple languages as well as read them, including shorthand. He knew things as they were happening far away. He could read minds. He could predict the future. "The fact that he was able to predict the outcome of future events," reads the bronze tablet beneath his statue, "seems to indicate that he possessed psychic power."

That's an unusual thing to read in on a statue in a small Missouri town -- but Jim was a very unusual dog.

Jim belonged to Sam Van Arsdale, who managed the Ruff Hotel -- named after a person, not a talking dog -- in downtown Marshall. It wasn't until Jim was three years old that Sam noticed the dog's ability to understand English. Sam's wife, Pearl, told him to keep quiet; she thought that people would think that Sam was lying or crazy. But Sam was proud of Jim, and soon the man and dog were giving informal demonstrations in the hotel lobby. Soon after that, people were staying in the hotel just to watch Jim in action.

Jim the Wonder Dog.

According to the park plaques, Sam would tell Jim to walk to "the man who had the most change in his pocket" or "the girl with the new engagement ring," and Jim would do it (How he knew these things, no one could say). Jim could pick out cars based on their make, model, color, state, or license plate number. Expectant mothers came to Jim to foretell the sex of their unborn babies; he would place a paw on a slip of paper reading either "boy" or "girl." The local newspaper printed both the birth announcements and Jim's successes.

Jim correctly predicted the victors of the World Series, the presidency, and seven consecutive Kentucky Derbies. He was, in fact, so skilled at forecasting the outcome of races that the Van Arsdales had to cut short a vacation to Florida. They'd received a note at the front desk of their hotel threatening Jim's life if he didn't stop picking winners at the dog track.

Memorial Garden entrance.
Memorial Garden entrance.

Sam was always trying to figure out how Jim could do the things he did. In 1931 he brought the dog to the University of Missouri, where he was examined by the director of the School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. A. J. Durant, and Dr. Sherman Dickinson of the College of Agriculture. They found that Jim had slightly larger than normal head and eyes. "It was a common observation that Jim had large, piercing, human-like eyes," notes another park plaque.

The two doctors did everything that they could to prove that Jim was a fraud. They even brought in foreign language professors to give Jim oral and written commands in Greek, Italian, and German; Jim performed them all promptly and accurately. When the tests were complete, the doctors conceded that Jim had abilities beyond their understanding. They became fans of the dog, and later became mourners at his funeral.

Jim and Sam once found themselves in front of a combined session of the Missouri State Legislature, whose members wanted to debunk the dog. To thwart 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.

Grave of Jim the Wonder Dog.
Grave of Jim the Wonder Dog.

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

When Jim died in 1937 his obituary appeared in newspapers as far away as Canada. The Van Arsdales received over 500 calls, letters, and telegrams of condolence. Sam and Pearl -- who had no children -- asked that Jim be buried in the family plot in Ridge Park Cemetery. The sexton refused, so Jim was buried just outside the cemetery fence. A request from the University of Missouri for Jim's brain was denied.

And Jim had the last laugh; the cemetery eventually had to expand onto the land surrounding his grave, so he's now interred among the non-wondrous human citizens of Marshall. When we asked the caretaker about Jim, he said, "Every day or two, somebody visits the grave or asks where it is. No other grave gets anywhere near this much attention."

In 1999, the empty lot where the Ruff Hotel had stood was turned into the Jim the Wonder Dog Memorial Garden. A brick walkway takes Jim pilgrims past manicured plantings and shrubs, a trickling brook, and seven different plaques describing Jim's amazing life and achievements. At the center stands the life-size statue of Jim, alert, ready to foretell the future or answer a question in Spanish or French, his human-like eyes wide. The statue was modeled on a painting of Jim by Pearl, who is quoted on one of the plaques: "'He wasn't trained. He just knew.'"

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

Also see: Bobbie | Rex | Balto

Jim the Wonder Dog Memorial Garden

Address:
101 N. Lafayette Ave., Marshall, MO
Directions:
Downtown, on the west side of N. Lafayette Ave., just north of its intersection with W. North St. One block west of the town square.
Hours:
Daily 9am-dusk. Statue is lit at night.
Admission:
Donations appreciated.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Nicholas Beazley Aviation MuseumNicholas Beazley Aviation Museum, Marshall, MO - 2 mi.
Grave of Jim the Wonder DogGrave of Jim the Wonder Dog, Marshall, MO - 1 mi.
World's Largest 20th Century PecanWorld's Largest 20th Century Pecan, Brunswick, MO - 21 mi.
In the region:
Madonna of the Trail, Lexington, MO - 37 mi.

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