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The September 17, 1895 issue of Harper’s Round Table included an article about carrier-pigeons. The bulk of the piece, written by Anne Helme, discussed the upkeep of the carrier-pigeons in Manhattan’s Herald Square and how the pigeons were used to deliver timely dispatches from a yacht race to the staff at the New York Herald headquarters. The article concluded with a more down-to-Earth anecdote about a pair of homing pigeons owned by an 11-year-old boy in Manhattan. In this article, I will re-tell the tale of that boy’s pigeons – Annie Rooney and McGinty. You can read about the New York Herald’s carrier pigeons in my first post in this series.

A photograph of three pigeons in a Manhattan pigeon house in 1895 - the two pigeons on the left belonged to an 11-year-old boy and were named McGinty and Annie Rooney.
This is the original phoograph of the pigeons that accompanied the article. From left to right: McGinty, Annie Rooney, and a “guest” pigeon that appears to have accompanied the stars to their house

The Story of Annie Rooney and McGinty

An 11-year-old boy in Manhattan had been given two young pigeons as a gift. The boy named the pigeons “Annie Rooney” and “McGinty.” “[H]e determined to train them so that they would always make their home at his house.” In order to accomplish this, the boy kept the pigeons in his room in a mockingbird cage for six weeks, placing the cage outdoors during daytime (but being sure to cover the cage when it rained).

Autonomous Pigeons

At the expiration of six weeks, the boy opened the cage door and allowed Annie Rooney and McGinty to leave as they saw fit. After a bit of conversation, the pigeons opted to leave. That evening, Annie Rooney returned. The boy feared for McGinty but found that McGinty had made his way home by the next morning: “Rushing to the window, there he saw McGinty, in the wildest excitement, and with his head almost buried in the little dish which held the drinking water.”

Having proven that they could come and go, the boy took the door off the cage and gave his pigeons the freedom to move about as they saw fit.

Mischievous Pigeons

Annie Rooney and McGinty ventured out often and always returned. However, there were troubles.

Then, alas! began their troubles. So pleased were they with their little journey into the world that they at once set out to explore the houses near by, and every day a note was sent in from some neighbor to the effect: ‘Extremely sorry, but your pigeons fly into my bedroom and knock down all the ornaments.’ ‘Your birds insist upon walking up and down under my bed, making most unearthly sounds; I am afraid of birds and cannot stand having them in my house.’ ‘Again your birds have flown into my windows, and are in the children’s doll-house. They refuse to come out, and make such a hideous noise as to alarm the children.’

Although Annie Rooney and McGinty always returned to their home, it was alleged that they were two comfortable making themselves at home in other people’s homes in the interim. Neither Annie Rooney nor McGinty was reached for comment in the article.

Due to the number of complaints, the boy’s family decided that he must send Annie Rooney and McGinty away to the countryside.

Farewell, Annie Rooney and McGinty

The boy took Annie Rooney and McGinty to a farm in Long Island in a covered basket. His beloved pigeons were placed in a pigeon-house and provided with water and food. The boy remained for a day to see to it that his pigeons were well cared for. As content as he could be under the circumstances, the boy said farewell to his pigeons and returned to his home in Manhattan.

Annie Rooney and McGinty Returned Home, as Expected

It took the boy several hours to make his way home. Helme tells us that he arrived home at six in the evening. Upon arrival, he informed his mother that the deed was done – Annie Rooney and McGinty were now residents of a pigeon-house on Long Island.

Ten minutes after the boy returned home, “there was a great fluttering of wings…”

Annie Rooney and McGinty arrived ten minutes after the boy. They “had returned, and prouder and happier pigeons were never seen.”