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Paul Ashwin

11 Cat Monuments

Original image
Paul Ashwin

In my backyard, there’s a fairly large concrete slab, painted blue with the word “Biscuit” lovingly written in gold paint. I have to move that heavy rock twice every time I mow, but it means a lot to a young girl who buried her cat underneath. My daughter’s memorial to a beloved pet isn’t out of the ordinary. There are monuments to cats all over the world. Here are a few you can visit yourself.

1. Towser

Photograph by Paul Ashwin.

Towser worked at Glenturret Distillery near Crieff, Scotland her entire life, from 1963 to 1987. In those 24 years, she caught 28,899 mice! At least that’s the number recorded on the monument to her that you can see at the visitor’s center at the distillery. Towser was recognized as the World’s Greatest Mouser by the Guinness Book of World Records. That’s an average of three mice every day for her entire life!

2. Hamish McHamish

Photograph by DC Thomson.

The town of St Andrews, Fife, Scotland, erected a bronze statue in honor of the town’s favorite cat earlier this year. And the cat is still alive. And he’s not even known for a specific heroic deed. But Hamish McHamish is a star among St Andrews' residents. The bronze statue of Hamish was created by Kilmany-based sculptor David Annand and Fife stonemason Colin Sweeney. The £5,000 cost was funded by donations. The unveiling ceremony was a big affair

After students Hannah Holmes and Rosie Hanlon from St Andrews Opera had serenaded the assembled crowd with Rossini’s humorous duet for two cats, Hamish’s owner Marianne Baird said it all seemed a bit surreal.

She said: “I can’t really get over it. All I did was get a kitten."

Hamish is a wandering cat, and over the years has made himself at home at many local businesses and the University of St Andrews. People who travel to St Andrews often ask to meet Hamish. You can see pictures of Hamish at his Facebook page.

3. Mrs. Chippy

Photograph by Flickr user History Group.

Mrs. Chippy was a ship’s cat on the Endurance during Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to Antartica in 1914-1917. He (despite the name, the cat was male) belonged to expedition carpenter Harry McNeish. After the ship became trapped in ice, Mrs. Chippy, along with the sled dogs, was shot. McNeish never forgave Shackleton for the decision to shoot his cat, and was later denied the Polar Medal the rest of the crew received due to Shackleton’s perception of his insubordination. Almost 100 years later, the New Zealand Antarctic Society commissioned a bronze statue of Mrs. Chippy and had it added atop Harry McNeish’s grave in Wellington, New Zealand. 

4. Hodge

Photograph by Jim Linwood.

Samuel Johnson published A Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, the most famous of his many writings. During that time, he was kept company by his cat Hodge. Johnson doted over the cat, and bought him fresh oysters. In 1997, a bronze statue of Hodge was erected outside Johnson’s house in Gough Square, London. It was designed by sculptor Jon Bickley and consists of Hodge, Johnson’s dictionary, and some empty oyster shells. The inscription quotes Johnson: "a very fine cat indeed."

5. Trim

Photograph by PanBK.

Matthew Flinders led the first expedition to sail all the way around Australia. On his journeys he was accompanied by his cat Trim. Trim was born aboard the HMS Reliance in 1799. He showed his spunk as a kitten when he fell overboard and made his way back by climbing a ship’s rope. Trim sailed with Flinders around the continent on the HMS Investigator and survived the shipwreck of the Porpoise. The cat even accompanied Flinders to jail when he was imprisoned in Mauritius, but disappeared during his sentence. A bronze statue of Trim by sculptor John Cornwell was installed at the Mitchell Library in Sydney in 1996. It is accompanied by a plaque reading:

TO THE MEMORY OF
TRIM
The best and most illustrious of his race
The most affectionate of friends,
faithful of servants,
and best of creatures
He made the tour of the globe, and a voyage to Australia,
which he circumnavigated, and was ever the
delight and pleasure of his fellow voyagers
Written by Matthew Flinders in memory of his cat
Memorial donated by the North Shore Historical Society

6. Homeless Cats

German sculptor Siegfried Neuenhausen designed this 1981 monument to homeless cats in Braunschweig, Germany.

7. Totti

This is a memorial to Totti, a cat belonging to Finnish poet Edith Södergran, who was a famous cat enthusiast. Designed by the Finnish sculptor Nina Terno, the monument is open to the public in Ozero Roshino, Russia, where Södergran and her cat spent their summers.

8. Gotoku-ji Temple

Photograph from For 91 Days.

At the Gotoku-ji temple in Tokyo, Japan, there is a small shrine dedicated to Maneki Neko, the “beckoning cat” you’ve seen so many times. Maneki Neko is a pop culture icon, but it is based on the legend of a real cat named Tama. Tama lived at the temple in the 17th century. The feudal lord Naotaka Ii was caught in a rainstorm near the temple and saw Tama with her paw upraised, as if beckoning him. When he went to the cat, the spot where he had been standing was struck by lightning! Because Tama had saved his life, Naotaka Ii gave money to the temple and built a shrine to the feline there. Today, people bring ceramic statues of Maneki Neko to the cat shrine at Gotoku-ji temple by the hundreds. See more pictures here

9. Yelisei

The siege of Leningrad during World War II isolated the citizens of that city for two and a half years. The cats of the city were eaten, which allowed the rat population to soar and destroy what little food there was. To combat the problem, cats were brought in from surrounding villages and they soon saved the city from the rat infestation. We don’t know the story of the cat named Yelisei, but he was chosen as representative of the cats brought in to save Leningrad from rats. This monument to all those cats is on the corner of Nevsky Avenue and Malaya Sadovaya in St. Petersburg, the original name of Leningrad, which was restored after the Soviet era.

10. The Experimental Cat

Another cat monument in St. Petersburg stands in the courtyard of the main building of St. Petersburg State University. It is the monument to experimental cats, in honor of cats who were used in scientific research at the university

11. Tashirojima Cat Shrine

Tashirojima is a Japanese island that has around 100 people and many times that number of cats. Commonly known as “Cat Island,” it was once known for its silk. Those who raised silkworms liked to keep cats around to guard against the mice that threatened the worms. As the cat population grew, silkworm farmers and fishermen both began to observe the cats and use their behavior to predict weather. Feeding and petting the cats was supposed to bring luck. In the middle of the island is a shrine called Neko-jinja (猫神社), which means “cat shrine.” The story goes that a fisherman accidentally dropped a rock on a cat and killed it. He was so remorseful that he buried the cat and built a shrine to the cat’s memory at the gravesite. There are actually many cat shrines in Japan.

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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
Original image
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b
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Here's the First-Ever Video of Sand Cat Kittens Playing in the Wild

Sand cats are as elusive as they are adorable. Native to the isolated deserts of Asia and Africa, the nocturnal felines are adapted to desert life, and can go for long periods without water. They’re stealthy predators of venomous snakes and small rodents, and escape detection thanks to their pale sandy coats and furry paws, the latter of which make their tracks nearly invisible. These reasons, among others, are why sand kittens have never been captured on video—until now.

As The Independent reports, researchers from Panthera France, a wild cat conservation group, recently found and filmed three sand cat kittens in Morocco. Thought to be around two months old, they were hiding among vegetation as they waited for their mother to return.

Led by biologists Alexander Sliwa and Grégory Breton, the managing director of Panthera France, the researchers first embarked on their quest to locate and study the wild cat in 2013. Over the course of multiple expeditions, they encountered adults, but no offspring.

In April 2017, during their fifth expedition, Sliwa and Breton were heading back to camp at night when they spotted three pairs of gleaming eyes in the darkness. "They belonged to young sand cats, yellowish, small wild cats with broader faces and larger ears than domestic cats," Breton recounted on Panthera France's blog. Astonished, the scientists managed to record the kittens and identify and radio-collar their mother.

Experts think this is the first time that sand cat (Felis margarita) kittens have been documented in their African range. Until Sliwa and Breton locate even more baby cats for us to ogle, you can enjoy their video footage below.

[h/t The Independent]

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