At the newly renovated Mineola Station, along the main line of the Long Island Railroad, stands a work of public art depicting two figures cast in bronze, which are larger than life, both historically and figuratively.
These two noteworthy figures are aviator Bessica Raiche and a dog named Roxey. Today, their largely untold and remarkable stories of courage, pluck, and determination are discovered in the recently unveiled sculpture, ‘Bessie & Roxey,’ which measures a combined 20 feet, 6 inches tall, and is placed on a stone pedestal at the plaza of the LIRR Mineola Station alongside the railroad tracks that run west and east, to and from Penn Station, respectively.
This whimsical pairing of Bessica and Roxie in sculptural form celebrates these notable Long Island residents, whose paths never actually crossed but are interconnected through their shared ties to Mineola and early 20th-century transportation.
Commissioned by MTA Art & Design and Long Island Railroad, ‘Bessie & Roxey’ is artist Donald Lipsky’s newest work of public art, modeled by Christopher Collins, with bronze by Art Castings of Colorado.
Who Was Bessica Raiche?
On September 16, 1910, aviator Bessica (Bessie) Raiche made the first accredited solo flight by a woman in an airplane in the United States, as declared by the Aeronautical Society of America.
Born in Wisconsin and later settling on Long Island, Bessica and her husband, Francois, built a biplane in the living room of their Mineola home and assembled it in her yard before several flights at the surrounding Hempstead Plains. The flyer was constructed of bamboo, silk, and piano wire, rather than the heavier steel and canvas used by the Wright Brothers at that time. It was in this frail aircraft that Bessica made her solo flight.
After receiving a diamond-studded gold medal in October of 1910 from the Aeronautical Society, inscribed with’ ‘First Woman Aviator of America”, Bessica and her husband started their own company in Mineola, building airplanes and giving flying lessons. Her aviation career lasted a few more years before she gave up flying for health reasons and moved to California to continue her previous career as a physician – one of the first American women to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology.
Bessica Raiche is remembered as a “new” woman of the modern era who drove automobiles and practiced the sports of swimming, shooting, and horseback riding. She was an accomplished painter, musician, and linguist. In 1932, Bessica died from complications of heart disease.
Roxey, the LIRR Dog
Held high overhead, in the palm of Bessica’s left hand, sits Roxey, the free-spirited LIRR Dog in sculptural form. In 1901, Roxey made his way to the Long Island Railroad’s Garden City Station, where he was cared for and well-fed by railroad crew and passengers alike. The popular Roxey became the LIRR mascot, with an official pass to sit wherever he chose while train hopping, often returning to sleep with the station master in Garden City, who adopted Roxey. On many occasions, Roxey traveled with President Teddy Roosevelt in his private car to Oyster Bay and even visited the President’s home at Sagamore Hill, the ‘Summer White House.’
In 1914, Roxey the LIRR Dog passed away and now lies at rest next to Sunrise Highway at the Merrick Station, where devoted LIRR commuters come to bring flowers and freshen Roxey’s water bowl.
Today, Bessica and Roxey’s shared local history is remembered and forever preserved in this impressive, larger-than-life public work of art. In the fingers of Bessica’s right hand, she holds the sculpted medal awarded to her from the Aeronautical Society, and draped on a chain with it, is a round dog tag inscribed, ‘I am Roxey the LIRR dog. Whose dog are you?”
So, if you happen to be riding the main line of the Long Island Railroad, with a stop in Mineola, pause to look out the window of your railcar at ‘Bessie & Roxey.” I promise that you’ll be glad you did.
Julia !!! Wonderful article. We just did a short video about Bessica for Woman’s History Month. Love all your work!
Thanks, Jerelyn. It’s a terrific story, and the statue at Mineola is magnificent.