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Park friends put out APB on statue

This photo of Arlington children on the dog at the farm in 1937 was used in the book "Robbins Farm Park, Arlington, Massachusetts: A Local History” by Oakes Plimpton.

courtesy Oakes Plimpton

This photo of Arlington children on the dog at the farm in 1937 was used in the book "Robbins Farm Park, Arlington, Massachusetts: A Local History” by Oakes Plimpton.

The search is on in Arlington for a missing dog that once offered a popular photo opportunity to kids in Robbins Farm Park.

But this search is nothing like the recent effort launched by Brookline author Dennis Lehane to find his missing beagle, Tessa.

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The Arlington dog isn’t alive. It never was. Neighbors around the park aren’t knocking on doors and they aren’t posting signs around town.

If they did, the signs might say: “Missing, statue of a Labrador-mastiff mix. Last seen Robbins Farm Park circa 1950. Dark-colored with a missing tail. Do not attempt to lift. Possible cash reward.”

Despite their less-than-frantic approach, Roland Chaput and fellow members of the Friends of Robbins Farm Park are hoping that by shining a spotlight on their quest to find the dog, someone may come forward with information.

“It hasn’t been seen for about 60 years,’’ said Chaput. “But maybe it is in some guy’s backyard and he forgot all about it.”

The group got the idea to begin sleuthing for the statue around the beginning of the year at an annual meeting, and they have spent the past few weeks trying to track it down in hopes of returning it to the park.

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The pooch was perched atop the tall hill at Robbins Farm Park, which offers a majestic view of the Boston skyline. Children frequently posed with the statue, and a few old, black-and-white photos of children sitting on the dog in the park in the 1930s are still floating around.

But other details of the dog are sketchy at best.

Oakes Plimpton, who compiled a book titled “Robbins Farm Park, Arlington, Massachusetts: A Local History,” said the 11-acre park and the statue had once been owned by the late Nathan Robbins, a member of a well-known Arlington family that gave the town several of its public buildings, including the library.

Robbins married May Robbins in 1902, and around 1912 they moved into a house on the farm.

Chaput said it is unknown when the Robbinses obtained the canine statue, but speculated it was used as a make-believe guard dog. He said the statue was probably cast iron but could have been bronze. It was about four feel long and was either modeled after a Labrador retriever, mastiff, or a mix of the two breeds.

By the mid-1920s, Nathan and May Robbins had become infamously at odds with each other and by some accounts did not speak for about 20 years despite living in the same home. According to an article that ran in the Globe on Jan. 17, 1929, May Robbins was said to be suing her husband for financial support and claimed that though her husband grew potatoes, he gave her rotten potatoes to cook and he left the kitchen table whenever she entered the room.

The farm stayed in the Robbinses’ possession until 1942, when the town purchased the property in a friendly eminent domain taking for the purpose of using the land as a park, said Plimpton.

Around 1950, the old farmhouse was torn down, and it was then that the statue of the dog disappeared.

Chaput said someone with the demolition crew may have taken it, but no one knows for sure.

Elaine Backman, a member of the Friends of Robbins Farm Park, said the group has tried to find where the dog may have been made. There was some speculation that famed Arlington sculptor Cyrus Dallin made the dog, but Backman said that does not appear to be the case. Instead, Backman said, she believes the statue was a copy of a dog called “The Sentinel” created by Rhode Island artist Thomas Frederick Hoppin in the 19th century.

Chaput said he’s also found similar dog statues in Houston, Texas, and if the group is unable to find the original statue, it might be able to have a replica made, depending on the cost.

If the group can somehow find the original statue, Chaput said, it would be willing to make a deal to buy it back and would then work with the town to return it to the park.

“I want it to go into the playground, where the kids can have their picture taken with it,” he said.

Anyone with information about the whereabouts of the statue is asked to call the Friends of Robbins Farm Park at 781-646-7786.

Brock Parker can be reached at brock.globe@gmail.com

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