In 1940, Mickey Mantle turned eight years old. The sounds of Swing and be-bop were spinning on record turntables and the number one best-seller at the bookstores was Native Son.
America was relatively lazy and peaceful in 1940. This was especially true in Daytona Beach, a resort city on Florida’s northeast coast known for its 23 miles of hard, white sandy beaches.
Down on Beach Street, which was the main drag, Ed Budgen ran his Daytona Cab Company. It was neighbor to a bar, a Liggett’s drug store, a barber shop, a pool hall, and a bank.
A yacht marina sat across from the cab stand on the southeast side of Beach Street. On the northeast corner was Riverfront Park, a verdant, pleasantly shady spot in which to gaze out at the Intracoastal Waterway.
In 1940, something about this small-town commercial area attracted a stray dog. Nobody knows where he came from or why, but one day a four-legged stranger wandered into town, sniffed around, and liked what he smelled. That day, Daytona Beach’s permanent population – 22,580 – increased by one.
I was knee high to a grasshopper in 1940, but I remember Brownie as a nice, friendly dog,” says Ed Budgen’s son George. “My father gave him the name Brownie. He was a shorthaired, tan dog, around 18 inches high. He looked somewhat like a boxer.”
Ed took the dog to a local veterinarian to be checked out. The vet guessed that Brownie was a year old.
Ed asked around, but nobody knew anything about a runaway dog with a sweet nature. So Ed, the cab drivers and the other merchants along Beach Street, decided to adopt Brownie.
Ed constructed a dog house out of a big cardboard box. And that’s where Brownie lived. As each doghouse wore out, Ed made another one. Brownie maintained his lease for the next 14 years, thirty yards from the corner of Orange and Beach.
Every day, Brownie would lope from merchant to merchant. He’d even go into the post office, then cross over to the park and marina.
His visits created an air of comforting consistency. The merchants found themselves expecting – and enjoying – Brownie’s presence. As long as he was around to wag his hello, all seemed right with the small world of Daytona Beach.
Brownie became a familiar, welcome fixture in town. Local residents would greet him with a smile, a hug or a pat. They’d tell him he was a good dog. They’d offer him a treat. And, once in a while, someone would bring him a steak.
E.B. Davidson who was six in 1940, said, “Brownie loved it when all the kids visited him after school, He was a real nice dog. He had a big head and a long nose. His face reminded me of a Rhodesian Ridgeback, but his body looked more like a hound.”
Vince Clarida was a boy when Brownie first came to town. His memories of Brownie include the local patrolman walking his beat along Beach Street – and Brownie tagging along.
“Ed and the other cab drivers used to feed Brownie a daily pint of ice cream,” Clarida says. “That dog loved ice cream!”
Ed Budgen fashioned a small pouch or box that he tied around Brownie’s neck. It served as a donation box. Residents and winter visitors would drop money into the box. Ed would deposit the money into a special bank account he had opened to help pay for Brownie’s food and veterinary care.
Brownie was also famous for constantly crossing into traffic. To the residents’ amazement, he was injured only once. It was a leg injury, but it healed.
Brownie was too independent to go home with anyone. But he was attached enough to the people of Daytona Beach to want to live out his years with them.
In October of 1954, Brownie died. Everyone assumed he died of old age. Someone from back home reported the sad news to E.B. Davidson while he was away at college. Neither he nor George Budgen, who was away in the military, could attend the funeral.
“The money in Brownie’s bank account paid for the plywood casket and the headstone,” Vince Clarida says. “Around 75 people were at the funeral, but a lot more people said they’d have been there, too, if they had known.”
Mayor Jack Tamm gave the eulogy, in which he declared that Brownie was a good dog. And that’s what they all decided to put on the headstone.
There’s a cool, quiet spot of grass in Riverfront Park that has a clear view of the calm Intracoastal at one end, and the stores of Beach Street on the other.
Brownie is buried there. His grave is canvassed by delicate red flowers. It’s covered with a granite stone etched with the likeness of a dog of unknown origin who might have understood that a lot of people loved him.
The granite is cold, but the engraved words are warm: Brownie. 1939-1954. A good dog.
Find out more about Brownie at his website: http://browniethetowndog.org/