A Hungarian Princess Once Kept a Pet Lion Cub at the Plaza

Posted On Thu, July 2, 2015 By

Posted On Thu, July 2, 2015 By In History

The Plaza (L) and Goldfleck’s headstone at the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery (R)

Last week, we explored the history of the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, America’s oldest and largest cemetery of its kind. We mentioned that beloved pets laid to rest in this upstate burial ground include much more than just cats and dogs. One of the most notable unconventional pets is Goldfleck, a lion cub who lived the life of royalty in the Plaza Hotel.

Goldfleck belonged to Princess Elisabeth Vilma Lwoff-Parlaghy of Hungary. She was a well-known portrait painter with a love for animals. After visiting New York twice, she moved to the city permanently in 1909, taking up residence in a 14-room suite on the third floor of the Plaza. She had seen a cute lion cub at the Ringling Brothers circus, but when she asked to buy him, the circus owners refused. They did, however, agree to sell him to Daniel E. Sickles, a Civil War hero whose portrait the Princess had just painted. He immediately turned the cub over to Princess Elisabeth.

Princess Vilma Lwoff Parlaghy
Self portrait of the Princess

Elisabeth von Parlaghy was born in 1863. Her art work gained notice in 1890 when criticcs saw a portrait she painted of her mother. She then began painting European royals, and her work was displayed internationally, even at the famous 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. In 1899, she married Russian Prince Lwoff. Though they divorced after a few short years, she kept her Princess title and acquired a great deal of wealth. During both of her trips to New York, the Times gave her work rave reviews and expressed hope that she would move to the city permanently.

Before settling in the city, Princess Lwoff-Parlaghy took up residence in Hot Springs, Virginia, where she developed a strong love for animals. Atlas Obscura dug up a New York Times article from this time that described her life: “Attending the Princess were two attachés, two couriers, a footman, first and second butler, first and second lady’s maid, a cook, a valet, a Swedish nurse, and last but not least in the affections of the Princess, her assortment of animal pets, consisting of a small fluffy Pomeranian dog, a smaller Angora cat, a guinea pig, an owl, two small alligators, and a bear.”

New York Plaza Hotel, the plaza

It was because of this pet entourage that the Princess didn’t move to New York City right away. Eventually in 1909, she found a hotel, the Plaza, that would accept her pets. After adding a lion cub to her brood, she hired a trainer, but more often than not she took care of him herself. Goldfleck liked to lounge in the suite’s huge bathtub, but didn’t get many opportunities to run around and be outside. So, in 1912, he passed away. The devastated princess held a funeral service at the Plaza and then took Goldfleck to be buried in the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery. He is the only lion to ever be interred there.

Hartsdale Pet Cemetery

Goldfleck’s headstone reads: “Beneath This Stone Is Buried The Beautiful Young Lion Goldfleck, Whose Death Is Sincerely Mourned By His Mistress Princess Lwoff-Parlaghy, New York, 1912.”

As for the Princess, things went a bit south after Goldfleck’s passing. Her fortune was depleted following WWI, and the Plaza asked her to leave in 1914 after accumulating a long list of unpaid debts. She did have two successes after this–painting portraits of  John Burroughs and Nikola Tesla. In 1923, the Princess passed away and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.

[Via Atlas Obscura]


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