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Cats Strut the Runway at the Algonquin Hotel's Feline Fashion Show

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Last night, on Wednesday, August 10, ailurophiles (that is, cat lovers) flocked to New York City's storied Algonquin Hotel in midtown Manhattan for the 10th Annual Cat Fashion Show and an evening filled with sophistication, style, and lots of lint rollers. Felines wearing tiny wigs, outfits, and accessories designed by certified animal fashion designer Ada Nieves strutted around the hotel’s lobby as guests clad in kitty-inspired apparel took photos, enjoyed refreshments, and tried to spot the Algonquin Hotel’s famous lobby cat, a Ragdoll named Matilda III, lurking near the concierge desk.

The Algonquin has owned a series of pampered rescue cats since the early 1920s. Over the decades, 11 kitties have called the luxury lodging home. The male cats are typically named Hamlet after the late stage actor John Barrymore, a notable Algonquin guest who played the cursed Danish king. As for the female cats, they’re called Matilda. (The hotel’s current pet, Matilda III, came to the hotel in 2010 after she was abandoned outside the North Shore Animal League in Port Washington, New York.)

Since 2006, the Algonquin Hotel has celebrated its famous feline residents with an elaborate fashion show. Ticket proceeds are donated to a charitable cause. Last night’s event aimed to raise $10,000 for the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals. This year, additional funds were also raised through a silent auction offering cat-themed prizes, and an on-site mobile adoption unit parked in front of the hotel from 3 to 7 p.m. offered attendees the chance to take home their very own rescue kitty.

Along with the charity which receives the funds, the fashion show’s theme changes every year. This year attendees celebrated “Through the Decades,” a theme that honored “the iconic looks of the hotel’s most famous guests and patrons, including Al Hirschfeld, Michael Feinstein, Marilyn Monroe, John Barrymore and many more," according to a statement from the Algonquin.

Keeping with the historic vibe, last night’s cat models were clad in pink cocktail dresses, theatric capes, bowler hats, baseball uniforms, and curly wigs. But the evening's guest of honor, Matilda, didn't dress up for the show. 

“We tried once—and it was not pretty,” said Alice de Almeida, the Algonquin Hotel’s “chief cat officer." De Almeida’s job, she tells mental_floss, is to make sure Matilda is “always comfortable, she has all her needs, and she's happy.” De Almeida also manages Matilda III’s social media accounts.

When Matilda III first made her “grand debut” at the Algonquin in 2010, “we thought it would be great if we gave her a royal robe trimmed in fake fur,” de Almeida explained. “It didn’t work.” (Matilda herself only made one or two appearances at last night's fashion show before disappearing into a back room.)

As for the writers, critics, actors, and humorists who populated the Algonquin Hotel’s infamous Round Table, what would they think of their former haunt hosting a cat fashion show? 

“They really liked making fun of people, so they would have thought this was hilarious,” said Kevin Fitzpatrick, president and founder of the Dorothy Parker Society, who attended last night’s celebration. “I mean, think about it: You're here for a cat fashion show, so that's kind of humorous right there."

Parker and her friends would likely satirize the humans—not the animals—in attendance, Fitzpatrick told mental_floss. The Round Table’s members "were animal lovers," he said. "Dorothy Parker always had a dog her entire life, ever since she was a little girl, and a lot of them had pets. They all betted on the horses, too, so they were big horse lovers. They would have thought this was hilarious.”

Here’s a sampling of some of the best looks and mew-ments from last night’s show:

American caricaturist Al Hirschfeld

 

American critic, writer, and satirist Dorothy Parker

 

Baseball player Joe DiMaggio

 

Musician Michael Feinstein

 

American comedian and second-oldest of the Marx Brothers

 

My Fair Lady (written in Room 502 of the Algonquin Hotel by Broadway lyricist and librettist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Lowe)

 

Actor John Barrymore, as Hamlet

 

Marilyn Monroe

 

The Algonquin Hotel's future: the "Millennial Cat"

 

Actor Douglas Fairbanks, as Robin Hood

Matilda, the famous Algonquin Hotel cat, didn't participate in the fashion show—but she did make a brief appearance in the hotel lobby.

 

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at tips@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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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
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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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