10 of History's Craziest Cat People

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Many illustrious historical personages had a beloved cat or two, but some of them were full-on crazy cat people, filling their homes with felines and far preferring their companionship to that of humans. Here are 10 famous historical figures who were unabashed crazy about cats.

1. CARDINAL RICHELIEU

The Cardinal's Leisure by Charles Edouard Delort, 19th century. Image credit: Detroit Institute of Arts via The History Blog

Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu (1585-1642)—cardinal, statesman, power behind the throne, and scene-stealing villain of The Three Musketeers—was such a devotee of the cat that he contributed significantly to their adoption as companion animals in fashionable French society. Richelieu had a cattery built at his residence the Palais-Cardinal (later the Palais-Royal) to house his many cats, mostly Persians and Angoras, and was said to always have a cat on his lap as he worked.

He was also a world-class adept at naming his cats. Among the 14 cats Richelieu had at the time of his death in 1642 were Ludovic le Cruel, named for his savage dedication to killing rats; Ludoviska, who according to some sources was Ludovic's girlfriend and was Polish; Perruque (French for wig), so named because as a kitten she'd fallen out of the wig of poet Honorat de Bueil at Richelieu's feet; Rubis sur l'Ongle, the French idiom for "cash on the nail"; Gazette, because she was "indiscreet"; the cardinal's favorite Soumise (submissive); plus Pyrame and Thisbe, named after the lovers in Ovid's Metamorphoses because they slept together holding paws.

2. POPE PAUL II

Pope Paul II (1417-1471) loved jewels, luxurious ecclesiastical garments, collecting antiquities, and forcing the Jews of Rome to run naked in the streets during Carnival. He also loved animals. So tenderhearted was he toward non-bipeds that if he happened upon an animal on its way to be butchered, he would rescue it. Cats were his particular favorites. He treated them as well as he treated himself. When his cats fell ill, he summoned his personal physician, Giacomo Gottifredi, to tend to them. When whatever leechcraft and wortcunning Gottifredi possessed was not sufficient to save one of the pope's beloved cats, he was grief-stricken. His emotional reaction to the loss of his cat was roundly mocked in Rome, where epigrams were written deriding the Pope's soft-hearted mourning for an animal—and one with a reputation for consorting with the Devil at that.

3. CATHERINE THE GREAT

A cat at the Hermitage today. Image credit: RachelH_, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Catherine the Great of Russia (r.1762-1796) had two fully-fledged cat colonies in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Her personal pets were elegant Russian Blues, a breed she favored above all, giving them to ambassadors as gifts for other sovereigns, reputedly including the British royal family. Catherine's Blues had the run of the upper floors of the palace. The basement, on the other hand, was populated with unpedigreed working cats. Their mission, which they chose to accept with alacrity, was to keep the rodent population at bay. Catherine officially promoted the working cats to guard status, complete with salaries and additional food rations.

She loved cats so much that Prince Grigory Potemkin (military commander, statesman, and the Empress's onetime lover) gave her one to thank her for her gift of the Sévres Cameo Service. The service cost 62,324 rubles, about $70,000 then and about $40 million today. It was so expensive that Catherine spent the next 13 years attempting to renegotiate the price down. Poor Potemkin could never come close to matching this gift, so his response was to give her an Angora cat. She adored the present, calling her new cat "the cat of all cats" and "he of the velvety paws."

4. ROBERT SOUTHEY

Portrait of Robert Southey by John James Masquerier, 1800. Image credit: The History Blog

Poet Laureate Robert Southey (1774-1843) was an out and proud cat lover. His felines made frequent appearances in his correspondence, often relaying messages through Southey to his friends' cats "from the Cattery of Cat's Eden." He too enjoyed picking arcane names for his pets. In 1826, when he was away from home in Leyden, he wrote this in a letter to his 7-year-old son Cuthbert:

I hope Rumpelstiltzchen has recovered his health, and that Miss Cat is well; and I should like to know whether Miss Fitzrumpel has been given away, and if there is another kitten. The Dutch cats do not speak exactly the same language as the English ones. I will tell you how they talk when I come home.

Seven years later, Rumpelstiltzchen's health finally gave out. Southey shared the news with his old friend Grosvenor G. Bedford, a cat lover in his own right.

Alas! Grosvenor, this day poor old Rumpel was found dead, after as long and happy a life as cat could wish for, if cats form wishes on that subject. His full titles were : "The Most Noble the Archduke Rumpelstiltzchen, Marquis M'Bum, Earl Tomlemagne, Baron Raticide, Waowhler, and Skaratch." There should be a court mourning in Catland, and if the Dragon [i.e., Bedford's cat] wear a black ribbon round his neck, or a band of crape a la militaire round one of the fore paws, it will be but a becoming mark of respect.

5. ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th President of the United States, was a great cat aficionado. First Lady Mary Todd said cats were her husband's only hobby. He took in strays and had several cats in the White House, even though he had left his dog Fido behind in Springfield, Illinois. Secretary of State William Seward gave him two kittens, Tabby and Dixie, and the President doted on them shamelessly even at formal events. He once fed Tabby from the table at a state dinner. When his wife complained, Lincoln reassured her, "If the gold fork was good enough for [former President James] Buchanan, I think it is good enough for Tabby."

In the home stretch of the Civil War in March, 1865, Lincoln went to see General Ulysses Grant, then engaged in the siege of Petersburg in Virginia. While he was at Grant's headquarters in City Point, he saw three kittens in the telegraph hut. He scooped them up and cuddled them on his lap. According to Admiral David Porter, Lincoln talked to them, saying, "Kitties, thank God you are cats, and can't understand this terrible strife that is going on." Before he left, he charged a colonel with ensuring the kittens were fed and sheltered.

6. THÉOPHILE GAUTIER

Theophile Gautier's grave in Montmartre Cemetery in Paris. Image credit: Nico Paix, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

French author Théophile Gautier (1811-1872) adored cats and talked about them all the time. Any collection of quotes about cats can't help but feature at least a half dozen from Gautier. He literally wrote the book, Ménagerie Intime, about his domestic life with his cats.

He started off with Childebrand, a black-and-tan tabby whose name gave Gautier a much-needed rhyme for "Rembrandt." As his pets were not neutered, there were soon more cats. The white Angora Don Pierrot de Navarre and the equally white feline enchantress Marquesa Dona Séraphita had a litter of three black kittens: Enjolras, Eponine, and Gavroche. (Victor Hugo's Les Miserables was the latest literary sensation shortly before they were born.) Eponine had at least one kitten of her own, Cléopatre, who enjoyed standing on three legs. Then there was Madame Théophile, an orange-and-white cat who enjoyed eating food from Gautier's fork, and Zizi, an accomplished musician who did her best work walking across the piano at night.

His love for cats followed him to the grave, where a carved cat peers out from the top of his headstone at the Montmartre Cemetery in Paris.

7. CHARLES BAUDELAIRE

Charles Baudelaire 1855, photo by Félix Nadar. Image credit: Wikimedia // Public Domain

The French poet Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) placed cats significantly above most people in his social hierarchy. One of the poems in his masterpiece Les Fleurs du Mal not only praises the feline, but identifies the cat's meow as the very source of his verse.

This voice, which seems to pearl and filter
Through my soul's inmost shady nook,
Fills me with poems, like a book,
And fortifies me, like a philtre.

Baudelaire couldn't resist cats, even the ones he'd never seen before. He would follow them on the street, pick them up, and pet them. When he was invited to someone's home for the first time, he would seek out the cat and then spend the rest of the visit snuggling it, completely focused on the cat to the detriment of all the humans. He would ignore his hosts and the other guests for the duration of his visit.

8. CALVIN COOLIDGE

Calvin Coolidge with one of his cats. Image credit: The History Blog

Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933), 30th President of the United States, had at least four cats in the White House—Tiger, Blackie, Timmy, and Smokey. Tiger was an orange tomcat Coolidge had moved into the White House from his farm in Vermont. He would come when the President called him by the nickname "Tige" and was often seen draped around his neck when Coolidge walked around the White House.

On the night of March 20, 1924, Tiger slipped out an open door and into the wilds of Washington, D.C. The next morning, Coolidge called for Tiger, but he didn't appear. Alarmed, the President dispatched the staff to search the executive mansion and grounds, but to no avail. Next he enlisted the city police, who were put on alert to look for the orange-and-black cat. Again, no Tiger.

Desperate, Coolidge turned to a medium with a wider reach. He sent Secret Service agent James Haley to WCAP radio where, on the night of March 24, he broadcast an appeal to listeners, asking them to call the White House phone if they had any information about the president's missing cat. Hundreds of people called the White House, either with tips or with offers to give Coolidge a whole new cat.

In the end, the radio appeal did the trick. One of the listeners was Captain Edward Bryant, who the next morning found a sleeping cat in the Navy Building just half a mile from the White House. Bryant tried the president's usual greeting, "Here, Tige!" and the cat ran over to him. A short cab ride later, Tiger was back in President Coolidge's everloving arms. To keep him that way, Coolidge got Tiger a new collar that declared, "My Name is Tiger. I live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

9. PAUL KLEE

Swiss artist Paul Klee (1879-1940) was inspired by his adored cats. Cats feature in close to 30 of his artworks, and those are just the ones where cats are the subjects. Sometimes they were his assistants and he directly enlisted their aid in his work. His cats Fritzi, Bimbo I, Bimbo II, Mys, Nuggi, and Fripouille (Skunk) were by his side when he painted and traveled. American philanthropist and collector Edward Warburg once tried to shoo away Bimbo when he walked across one of Klee's still-wet watercolors. Klee stopped him. "Many years from now," Klee said, "one of your art connoisseurs will wonder how in the world I ever got that effect."

10. MARK TWAIN

Mark Twain with kitten in Tuxedo Park, New York, 1907. Image credit:Courtesy of the Mark Twain Papers, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley via The History Blog

Mark Twain (1835-1910) may well out-crazy even the craziest of cat people. He had up to 19 cats at one time, all of whom he loved and respected far beyond whatever he may have felt about people. "If man could be crossed with the cat," he said, "it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat." When he was away from home, he would rent cats, paying their owners a large enough sum to see to their needs for a lifetime.

In keeping with the tradition established by Richelieu, Southey, and Gautier, Twain gave his cats most excellent names, among them Apollinaris, Beelzebub, Blatherskite, Buffalo Bill, Satan, Sin, Sour Mash, Tammany, Zoroaster, Soapy Sal, Pestilence, and Bambino. To be fair, the credit for the last of these goes to Twain's daughter Clara, who took in Bambino during a sanatorium stay. She gave the kitten to her father after one of the other patients ratted her out.

When Bambino escaped one day, Twain was frantic. He put ads in New York newspapers describing the cat as "large and intensely black" and offering a $5 reward for his return. As Calvin Coolidge would find out 20 years later, a famous person asking for aid in the return of a lost cat was subject to an enormous quantity of doppelgangers and would-be changelings from people who just wanted to make contact with the celebrity. Even after Bambino turned up on his own a few days later and Twain sent notice to all the papers, people still turned up at his Fifth Avenue home with cats for him.

This story originally ran in 2016.

5 Hilarious Discoveries from the 2019 Ig Nobel Prize Winners

andriano_cz/iStock via Getty Images
andriano_cz/iStock via Getty Images

Each September, the Ig Nobel Prizes (a play on the word ignoble) are given out to scientists who have wowed the world with their eccentric, imaginative achievements. Though the experiments are usually scientifically sound and the results are sometimes truly illuminating, that doesn’t make them any less hilarious. From postal workers’ scrotal temperatures to cube-shaped poop, here are our top five takeaways from this year’s award-winning studies.

1. Left and right scrota often differ in temperature, whether you’re naked or not.

Roger Mieusset and Bourras Bengoudifa were awarded the anatomy prize for testing the scrotum temperatures in clothed and naked men in various positions. They found that in some postal workers, bus drivers, and other clothed civilians, the left scrotum is warmer than the right, while in some naked civilians, the opposite is true. They suggest that this discrepancy may contribute to asymmetry in the shape and size of male external genitalia.

2. 5-year-old children produce about half a liter of saliva per day.

Shigeru Watanabe and his team nabbed the chemistry prize for tracking the eating and sleeping habits of 15 boys and 15 girls to discover that, regardless of gender, they each produce about 500 milliliters of spit per day. Children have lower salivary flow rates than adults, and they also sleep longer (we produce virtually no saliva when we sleep), so it seems like they may generate much less saliva than adults. However, since children also spend more time eating than adults (when the most saliva is produced), the average daily levels are about even—at least, according to one of Watanabe’s previous studies on adult saliva.

3. Scratching an ankle itch feels even better than scratching other itches.

Ghada A. bin Saif, A.D.P. Papoiu, and their colleagues used cowhage (a plant known to make people itchy) to induce itches on the forearms, ankles, and backs of 18 participants, whom they then asked to rate both the intensity of the itch and the pleasure derived from scratching it. Subjects felt ankle and back itches more intensely than those on their forearms, and they also rated ankle and back scratches higher on the pleasure scale. While pleasure levels dropped off for back and forearm itches as they were scratched, the same wasn’t true for ankle itches—participants still rated pleasurability higher even while the itchy feeling subsided. Perhaps because there’s no peace quite like that of scratching a good itch, the scientists won the Ig Nobel peace prize for their work.

4. Elastic intestines help wombats create their famous cubed poop.

In the final 8 percent of a wombat’s intestine, feces transform from a liquid-like state into a series of small, solid cubes. Patricia Yang, David Hu, and their team inflated the intestines of two dead wombats with long balloons to discover that this formation is caused by the elastic quality of the intestinal wall, which stretches at certain angles to form cubes. For solving the mystery, Yang and Hu took home the physics award for the second time—they also won in 2015 for testing the theory that all mammals can empty their bladders in about 21 seconds.

5. Romanian money grows bacteria better than other money.

Habip Gedik and father-and-son pair Timothy and Andreas Voss earned the economics prize by growing drug-resistant bacteria on the euro, U.S. dollar, Canadian dollar, Croatian luna, Romanian leu, Moroccan dirham, and Indian rupee. The Romanian leu was the only one to yield all three types of bacteria tested—Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, and Vancomycin-resistant Enterococci. The Croatian luna produced none, and the other banknotes each produced one. The results suggest that the Romanian leu was most susceptible to bacteria growth because it was the only banknote in the experiment made from polymers rather than textile-based fibers.

Visit Any National Park for Free on September 28—or Volunteer to Help Maintain Them

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Nick Hanauer/iStock via Getty Images

By the end of September—which always seems especially busy, even if you’re not a student anymore—you might be ready for a small break from the hustle and bustle. On Saturday, September 28, you can bask in the tranquility of any national park for free, as part of National Public Lands Day.

According to the National Park Service, the holiday has been held on the fourth Saturday of every September since 1994, and it’s also the nation’s largest single-day volunteer effort. It’s up to you whether you’d like to partake in the service side or simply go for a stroll, but there is an added incentive to volunteer: You’ll get a one-day park pass that you can use for free park entry on a different day. Opportunities for volunteering include trail restoration, invasive plant removal, park cleanups, and more; you can see the details and filter by park, state, and/or type of event here.

If you’re not sure how you should celebrate National Public Lands Day, the National Park Service has created a handy flowchart to help you choose the best course of action for you—which might be as simple as sharing your favorite outdoor activity on social media with the hashtag #NPLD.

National public lands day celebration flowchart
National Park Service

There are more than 400 areas run by the National Park Service across the U.S., and many of them aren’t parks in the traditional sense of the word; the Statue of Liberty, Alcatraz Island, and countless other monuments and historical sites are also run by the NPS. Wondering if there might be one closer than you thought? Explore parks in your area on this interactive map.

For those of you who can’t take advantage of the free admission on September 28, the National Park Service will also waive all entrance fees for Veteran’s Day on November 11.

And, if you’re wishing a free-admission day existed for museums, you’re in luck—more than 1500 museums will be free to visit on Museum Day, which happens to be this Saturday.

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