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"The Great Adventure" The Henry Bergh Story (1964)

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The Fop Who Discovered Humanitarianism

Author: theowinthrop from United States
26 February 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Henry Bergh is a man who in retrospect was treated highly unfavorably by his contemporaries of the Gilded Age. It was because he discovered he had a heart, and people of his class were not supposed to reveal this except to their intimates and family.

Born to wealth, Bergh discovered one day that he disliked something that people took for granted too much of the time: the beating and mistreatment of horses. In those pre-gas engine vehicle days, horses were the main method of urban transportation. The America of the 1870s had it's traffic jams, but they were due to horse drawn vehicle collisions. The drivers saw nothing wrong with using whips and other items to force their horses to move in a certain way to break-up the jams. Bergh was revolted by this. Too frequently the horses were badly bleeding (or worse) after such treatment.

Bergh soon noticed the same happened with smaller animals, like dogs, cats, pigs (New York Streets still had pigs running around eating horse manure and refuse), and chickens. Finally he got a few friends to support him, and created the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The jokes that resulted from this decent impulse are astounding. Even Thomas Nast got into the act - he drew a cartoon where Bergh insisted that animals who are cold in the winter wear coats and hats! Bergh resented the jokes, but he kept up his crusade.

In real life Bergh was a thin man with a droopy mustache and sad, baggy eyes. Here he was played by Brian Keith, who was quite good at showing his indignation and care for our fellow animal creatures. But the conclusion of the episode was the surprise. A woman takes Keith to a tenement, where he finds a child who has been badly mistreated by it's father. Picking up the child, Keith carries him to a courthouse where there is a trial considering declaring the S.P.C.A. illegal. The court is shocked at the sight of the child. Keith tells the court he will continue fighting for the viability of the A.S.P.C.A., but he is also going to fight for a new organization as well: the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

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