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As well as being a famous dancer and personality with her husband Vernon around the time of World War I, Irene Castle was an ardent animal lover. She was famous throughout the teens and twenties for dancing and fashion trends, as well as for touring the world with her pets – her dog named Zowie and her monkey named Rastas. Her love of animals eventually lead her to found Orphans of the Storm animal shelter in Deerfield Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago. Through Orphans of the Storm, Irene has left a lasting legacy of animal welfare and care.

Before Orphans of the Storm
Irene Castle was born Irene Foote in 1893 in New Rochelle, New York. Irene was a debutante and actor after the turn of the century when she met Vernon Blythe (later Vernon Castle), a British actor and magician. They married in 1911 and moved to Paris after a job offer. Later in Paris, they performed at a famous café at the request of some distinguished guests, and Irene and Vernon Castle made such an impression that requests immediately came from all over Paris to see them perform. The Castles were on their way to setting international dancing and fashion trends for years to come. Their dances including the Castlewalk and others, along with Irene’s no-corset look, her bobbed haircut and her ‘Castleband’ hair band all became the height of popularity and fashion.

Vernon Castle died in 1917 on a routine flight instructing Europe-bound pilots in Texas. Irene later wrote a book about their experiences together, ‘My Husband’ which was eventually made into a 1939 film starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, ‘The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle". Irene Settled in New York, but eventually met a polo-playing wealthy Chicagoan living in Lake Forest named Major Fredrick McLaughlin. He was eventually to win Irene over, and in the late 20’s he became her third husband. Major Frederick McLaughlin was born 1877 and was a hockey Hall Of Famer, a Sportsfigure, and founder of the Chicago Blackhawks in 1926. With the support of her husband, Irene was able to lease and eventually buy a 10 acre plot of land in Riverwoods in 1928 on which she would build Orphans of the Storm animal shelter.

Irene and Orphans of the Storm
Irene lent her name and support to Orphans of the Storm from 1928 until her death in 1969. Irene rebuilt the shelter in 1932 after a fire from the coal heater burned the shelter down. Irene built a fence around the shelter, and started the policy of taking unwanted animals from local municipalities and animal control centers. Thanks to Thelma Zwirner rescuing the shelter in 1969 after Irene’s death, the vision of providing animal care and a refuge for unwanted dogs and cats was able to continue until today.


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