A dog who rode the rails of the Long Island Rail Road and the first female to pilot an airplane solo may seem like an unlikely pair, but they are joined together in a new sculpture by artist Donald Lipski at the upgraded Mineola train station. The sculpture, titled Bessie and Roxey, depicts aviator Bessica (Bessie) Raiche and Roxey, the unofficial canine mascot of the LIRR. Though the two never interacted in life, they both are intricately tied to the history of Mineola and the railroad. Their stories were remembered when the renovated station celebrated its 100th anniversary this September.
Commissioned by MTA Arts & Design, Bessie & Roxey is made of bronze and stands 20 feet tall. Bessie is posed standing proudly in her aviator gear with her cap and goggles on her head while Roxey sits on her raised hand. In her other hand, she holds two medallions. One reads, “First Woman Aviator of America Bessica Raiche” and is a replica of a gold and diamond studded medal she was awarded by the Aeronautical Society of America. The other is a replica of the tag on Rocxey’s collar which reads “I am Roxey the LIRR dog. Whose dog are you?” The pose and green patina of the sculpture are reminiscent of the Statue of Liberty, an intentional choice that Lipski made to imbue the piece with a sense of history.
On September 16, 1910, Raiche took a historic flight from Hempstead Plains in a biplane that she and her husband constructed at their Mineola home. Together the couple built planes and gave flying lessons to other Long Islanders. After a move to California, Raiche continued to make history by becoming one of the first women to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology.
The floppy-eared pooch sitting on Raiche’s raised hand was a stray dog who found his way to the LIRR train station at Garden City in 1901. The dog was adopted by the station master and given the name Roxey. He was also gifted a special pass to ride the rails and soon became a familiar face to railroad crew and commuters. Roxey even reportedly got to ride in President Theodore Roosevelt’s private train car to Oyster Bay when the president visited his home at Sagamore Hill. Roxey died in 1914 and was given a memorial at the Merrick train station where commuters leave flowers. You can learn more about Roxey’s memorial here!
The original Mineola train station was built in 1837. A depot building named Mineola Junction came later, in 1865. A newer station was constructed in 1883 but eventually replaced in 1923. Some of the upgrades to the station you see today included mew, wider platforms with partial canopies, the creation of two pedestrian overpasses, a fully accessible renovated station building, charging stations, digital signage, snow and ice prevention technology, additional parking, and new elevators. Bessie and Roxey represent part of the station’s past, while they look on at the progress toward the future.