Quite a few cats were renowned long before their scions took over the internet.
While cats rule the internet and dominate Facebook, when it comes to animals making a name for themselves in history, dogs get the most attention. However, history has seen its share of famous cats. Here are a few that “made it big” before memes and Instagram.
The life of an explorer can get lonely at times, which is probably why Captain Matthew Flinders of the HMS Reliance took his cat Trim with him when he circumnavigated Australia in the early 1800s with the HMS Investigator. Flinders subsequently pronounced Australia a continent, with Trim at his side. Captain Flinders kept Trim on board during all his voyages. The two were constant companions.
Another sea-roaming cat, Mrs. Chippy sailed on the Endurance, the ship of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914 to 1917. Dubbed Mrs. Chippy after the nickname of the ship’s carpenter, Chippy, she was actually a he, but the name was too ingrained by the time the ship’s crew realized their mistake. You can find out more about this feline shipmate in “Mrs. Chippy’s Last Expedition: The Remarkable Journal of Shackleton’s Polar-Bound Cat” by Caroline Alexander.
Tabby and Dixie
Abraham Lincoln is not only known for being one of our greatest presidents, he also a big cat lover (and animal lover in general), and the first to have a cat in the White House. The Lincoln family cats, Tabby and Dixie, arrived in the White House as kittens, they were a gift form Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward, in 1861. Lincoln was known to feed his cats from the table, which irritated his wife Mary to no end. When asked if her husband had a hobby, Mary Todd Lincoln replied, “cats.”
The Algonquin Hotel in New York City is famous for the Algonquin Round Table, a group of artists who met at the hotel restaurant every day for lunch during the 1920s. The hotel is also famous for always having a resident cat since the 1930s, named either Hamlet by legendary thespian John Barrymore (seven total) or Matilda (three total). The current Matilda is a gray and white Ragdoll adopted from a shelter; named Cat of the Year at the Westchester (N.Y.) Cat Show, Matilda now has her own website and Facebook page.
One of the most well-known White House felines was a black and white cat named Socks, who belonged to President Bill Clinton. Socks was reportedly a stray who jumped into the arms of Chelsea Clinton when she was leaving her piano teacher’s home one day, just a year before Bill Clinton was elected President. Socks became a media darling, and was one of the most photographed pets to ever live in the White House. He lived to be 20 years old and was memorialized by several news organizations and magazines, including CNN and People.
In 1952, a big gray tabby wondered into a classroom at Elysian Heights Elementary School in Echo Park, Calif. The schoolchildren fell in love with him, and the cat became the school’s official mascot. He was dubbed Room 8, after the classroom where he made his debut. He lived at the school during the school year and left when classes let out, returning each year the first day of school.
He became famous in the Los Angeles area, and eventually around the country, for his dedication to the kids of Elysian Heights Elementary. Room 8 became the subject of a documentary film and children’s book (“A Cat Called Room 8” by Virginia Finley and Beverly Mason) and garnered a three-page spread in Look magazine. When he died in 1968 at the age of 22, the children of Elysian Heights Elementary raised money for his gravestone. He is buried at the Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park.
About the Author: Audrey Pavia is an award-winning freelance writer and author of “The Labrador Retriever Handbook.” She is a former staff editor of Dog Fancy, Dog World and The AKC Gazette magazines. To learn more about her work, visit www.audreypavia.com and hollywoodhoofbeats.net/