17 Curious Facts About Cincinnati Cats and Cat Fanciers

We’ve been fascinated by cats that look like alligators, kangaroos, and snakes, plus a lot of feisty tomcats who ruled their domains by force.
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A cat, according to C.G. Pemberton of Withamsville, is worth the same as a Ford motor car or a Chandler & Price Gordon-Style printing press. That’s according to a classified advertisement Pemberton placed in The Cincinnati Post on June 14, 1921. Intriguingly, he offered his printing press in exchange for either a Ford, a tomcat, a yellow dog, or an “educated bluejay.” One suspects there is a curious story there, but The Post never investigated. Maybe it was code for a bootlegging operation.

An Alligator Cat?

Nellie Isaminger was a popular nurse at the City Hospital, where she supervised the staff in Ward K. She was also the owner of a most curious feline. The cat was born at the hospital and considered quite intelligent. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer [May 10, 1897]: “The peculiarity of the animal is that all its four legs are only an inch long, so that the animal is forced to proceed alligator fashion, by dragging its stomach on the ground and wriggling its shoulders and hind quarters to aid locomotion.” Isaminger named her unusual cat Dot.

Known as the “Kangaroo Cat,” this Newport kitten was born with only two legs and got around by hopping.

Cincinnati Post (1914), image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand

A Kangaroo Cat?

Thomas Evans, a salesman living on York Street in Newport, invited The Kentucky Post to photograph his “kangaroo cat” in 1914. The little kitten, just five weeks old, was born with only two little bumps where his forelegs should be, and taught itself to get around by hopping on its hind legs. For normal locomotion, the two rear legs sufficed, but when in a hurry the little feller employed his tail as an additional extremity.

The Traitor Cat

Bessie Cline, of 210 Broadway, had named a cat after herself. Cline hated rats and her feline namesake was a good ratter, so they got along famously. Bessie the cat birthed four little kittens, and Cline envisioned an entire platoon of rat-chasers. And then, as The Post reported [July 9, 1930], her son Frederick announced that two more kittens had joined the brood. On inspection, Cline found Bessie nursing two young rats. The Post consulted experts, who said mother cats nurturing rodents was normal. Cline was not amused.

Bessie Cline was not amused when her pet mouser adopted a couple of rats instead of killing them.

Cincinnati Post (1930), image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand

The Tomcat Peace Warrant

A cat sent two Cumminsville women into court in 1907. It seems 4-year-old Helene Meyder brought a tomcat home, without mentioning that the cat actually belonged to Thelma Vorherr, who lived just a couple doors away on Collins (now Cass) Street. Vorherr, discovering her pet had been cat-napped, charged up the block and let Minnie Meyder, Helene’s mother, know exactly what she thought of her and the horse she rode in on. The very air was blued, and Minnie went to court to get a peace warrant, forcing Thelma Vorherr to keep her opinions to herself.

If a Cincinnati City Councilman, a dedicated bird watcher, had his way in 1908, every cat in the city would have been licensed and muzzled. His proposal died in committee.

Cincinnati Post (1908), image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand

An Official Cat Catcher?

For many years, Cincinnati had an official dog catcher—a job either thankless or repellant depending on one’s opinions of canines. In 1908, the songbird-loving City Councilman Robert O’Brien sponsored legislation that would have required all cats in the city to be licensed at a cost of $1 annually, to be tagged, to be muzzled while at large, and to be removed from the streets and disposed of if found in violation. O’Brien’s ordinance, which failed in committee, would have created the position of official cat catcher.

Curiosity Caught the Cat

Marion Scarborough owned a Persian cat she valued, in 1934, at $300 (almost $6,500 in today’s dollars). While she worked downtown as a stenographer, she was in the habit of letting the pet sun itself on the roof of the apartment building she lived in at 3209 Reading Road. One day she returned to find her cat missing. A diligent search found the curious feline stuck in the elbow joint of a downspout. Ladder Company Number 4, more familiar with getting cats out of trees, engaged in some creative plumbing to free the embarrassed cat.

Bill Taft the Hunter

In the early days of the 20th Century, the ink-stained wretches who wrote for Cincinnati’s many newspapers constituted the Pen & Pencil Club and met in a suite of rooms in the old Grand Opera Building on Vine Street, south of Sixth. They shared their clubhouse with a cat named Bill Taft. (The future President and Chief Justice was a newspaper man before he took up politics.) Bill the cat, not the politician, was famous for hunting sparrows on Fountain Square and dragging their little carcasses back to the Opera House.

Cat on the Beat

The Hammond Street Police Station went into mourning in the spring of 1878. Corporal Tom was missing and presumed dead. Tom was a tomcat, known as a good mouser, and had made his home at the station since 1864. Though only accorded corporal status, Tom stood next to the lieutenant at every roll call and inspected each patrolman. When the station was closed for renovations, Tom moved temporarily to the St. James Hotel, but he returned during the ribbon-cutting of the new station. Before he disappeared, Tom had been showing the effects of old age. He was never found.

100 Percent Episcopalian Cats

Harry Leist, longtime sexton at St. Paul’s Cathedral at the northeast corner of Seventh and Plum streets, had a cat population explosion going in 1930. Mine No. 1, the cathedral’s unlikely named official mouser, had just given birth to three coal-black kittens. Bishop Henry Wise Hobson decreed that one kitten might stay with its mother, but the other two would have to go. Then, Mine No. 1’s mother, ensconced at the diocesan house, delivered five more kittens. Harry called the newspapers and announced that, even though all the kittens were 100 percent Episcopalian, he would place them with any kind-hearted soul regardless of creed.

The Manx Monster

Although firemen have been identified with Dalmatian dogs for many years, Cincinnati’s firehouses often found a warm corner for a mascot cat. Usually the feline guest was a local tomcat of indeterminate lineage, but in 1901 Engine Company 23 in Walnut Hills adopted a pet so unusual that lines formed to get a gander at it. His name was Alexander, and he was dropped off by a neighbor, who informed the fireman it was a Manx cat from the Isle of Man, with a tiny nubbin of a tail and six claws on each foot. Alexander chased off Horace, the incumbent mouser, and usurped his duties.

A Guard Cat

It was fairly common for public establishments in Cincinnati to keep a cat around, mostly for pet control. Joseph Hahnel, who ran a café at Sixth and Monmouth streets in Newport, learned a good cat also provided excellent security. Around midnight one evening in 1926, a dog barged into Hahnel’s café while showing all the signs of rabies and attacked two customers. One jumped on top of a pool table, while the other sought refuge on the bar. Tabby, Hahnel’s elderly tomcat, was awakened by the commotion and leapt upon the intruder, chasing the rabid pooch into the night.

Don’t Mess With the Pressroom Cat

From time to time, most Cincinnati newspapers found space for an office cat, and the old Commercial Gazette was no exception. In 1889, a very comfortable and jealous cat had staked out its domain in the fifth-floor stereotyping department. Somehow, a strange cat found its way upstairs and marched into the room as if it owned the place. The established feline took offense, there was a swirling cyclone of fur and claws, and the newcomer leaped out an open window, five floors up, on the Race Street side. All worked stopped, and the men ran over to catch a glimpse of the corpse, but all they saw was one defeated tomcat running hell-bent for leather through the Race Street crowds.

A Master Mendicant

The cat had no name. It was a nondescript grey tomcat, and it hung around the Central Union Depot—Cincinnati’s largest train station before Union Terminal replaced it. One day in 1910, the tomcat used up one of his nine lives by zigging when it should have zagged as a baggage truck rolled by, shearing off one of the poor tom’s feet. The wound healed and the lucky tomcat learned to milk sympathy and treats from women passengers in particular. The little beggar haunted the lunch counters and dining tables, purring and rubbing against a silk-stockinged leg until a few cuddles and some sustenance was forthcoming.

Cat Bones in the Privy

Who dumped 60 kittens in a West End privy in 1885? More importantly, why? Mark S. Warner and Robert A. Genheimer, in a 2008 paper published in Historical Archaeology, describe the excavation of a privy in Cincinnati’s Betts-Longworth district from which they recovered a large quantity of cat bones, mostly from kittens. Although they offer several theories, ranging from urban sanitation to animal population control to carcass disposal to antisocial behavior, the authors admit there is no conclusive evidence for any of the hypotheses.

Cat’s Ghost Made Me Do It

For all of her unhappy life, Isabelle Phelps claimed to be haunted by the ghost of her cat. It was the spirit of this dead cat, she said, that drove her to murder. Isabelle was self-employed, peddling toiletries on the streets while living in a tenement on Richmond Street in the West End. She was often on the road to Dayton, Miamisburg, Lebanon, Middletown, and Hamilton, where she sometimes took rooms with the Walker family. One morning in 1911 at breakfast, Isabelle pulled a gun from her waistband and shot her landlord in the head at point-blank range, then fired the rest of the bullets at Mrs. Walker. Her defense—that the ghost of her cat was responsible—did not sway the court, and she was remanded to the Lima State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. She died there, a victim of cholera, in 1926.

Thauwald’s Amazing Cat

In 1901, Theodore Thauwald ran a saloon on Richmond Street at Central Avenue. He had a most peculiar cat named Terry McGovern II, named for a noted bantamweight boxer of the day. This cat displayed unique markings in the fur along its back, neck and head, resembling a snake. Instead of charming little birds with its eyes, like other cats, Terry used his secret weapon, approaching sparrows with his nose held close to the pavement, the snake-like pattern in full view. Exposed to the cat’s serpentine design, birds froze in fright and were easily dispatched. And then the witnesses adjourned to Thauwald’s tavern for a drink.

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