Pam’s Pictorama: This old press photo has revealed a world of cat lore I knew nothing about prior to researching it. Evidently cats by the dozens were employed by the US Post Office at the turn of the century to catch rodents that were especially attracted to the glue used on envelopes and packages at the time. In short order it took me to this splendid blogging colleague, The Hatching Cat, (I subscribed immediately) wherein his post, 1904: The Feline Police Society he outlines the fascinating society specifically of the New York post office cat force. It is a very jolly read, and I won’t steal much thunder from it except to say, the New York Post Office had a very large and extremely well organized force of felines for this purpose. There were first-class cats and second-class cats – they even knew to assemble and take the elevator when chow was served. Brilliant!
Back to our friend who seems to be a rather singular member of the Washington force, residing in the nation’s capital circa 1922. The back of this 5″x7″ photo reads, ‘Old Tom’, who has been catching rats in Post office [sic] department at Washington for 17 years. A14 Reference Dept September 11 1922 N.E.A. In pencil cats has also been scrawled, as well as the rather cryptic 1/2 cal Levs. Tom, this old, old timer as we’d call him in our house, was pretty famous.
Tom appears to have been featured in numerous articles period articles – some in what appear to be postal newsletters to the trade, others in newspapers of the day. The Spokane Daily Chronicle featured a story on Tom receiving a box of catnip for Christmas from one admiring Kittie (yes, Kittie) Thomas. This article appears in the September 14 issue, so perhaps she responded quickly to an article which accompanied the photo in another article? Coincidence? Below is a more comprehensive version that appeared in the Postal Record, volume 35, ’22.
Old Tom on a Rampage Old Tom the veteran Post Office Department cat is on a jag. Meanwhile the few remaining rats and mice that have escaped his relentless pursuit are relaxing the eternal vigilance that is responsible for their present existence. The mail man recently brought Old Tom a package neatly wrapped and bearing a 7 cent stamp It was addressed to The Postoffice at Tom Washington DC and was from Mrs Kittie Thomas 433 Shiawassee street Lansing Mich. Being a long ways from Christmas Tom’s superiors the watchmen began a spirited speculation as to the contents of the package. Not so Tom His sense of smell caused him to fall in love with it immediately and he could hardly restrain his impatience until it was opened. Yes. It was catnip and Tom is enjoying his first time off since the Roosevelt administration when he came into office. The watchmen at first were inclined to be resentful of ‘outside interference’ with Tom’s duties but when the increasing boldness of the rodent colony was observed the became general that when Tom recovers he will be able to capitalize the boldness and more than make up for the time lost of his spree. So far as is known Tom is not acquainted with his benefactress but that is not surprising in view of the fact that he has received more publicity than many public men and has been heard of in all sections of the country.
The Hermitage museum is well known for the generations of cats, ratters and mousers, in the basement. (I had hoped I might catch a glimpse of one when visiting – I even got lost and wandered out of the galleries and into a private space, but no. Those cats know how to stay behind the scenes I guess.) Many of you know I work for a large (and very old) museum in New York City. I have been suggesting the employment of cats for years, sadly to no avail. Perhaps this post will change their minds.