Firehouse Kitties

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: While firemen are frequently depicted rescuing our feline friends from trees, and Dalmatians get all the credit for being the canine kingpins of firehouse life, it is a fact that many cats actually rule the roost at our local firehouses. I grew up with a volunteer fire department, an impressively splendid thing in its own right with our local men training and risking their lives to rescue folks and put out fires. There was a firehouse of course, but to my knowledge no resident animals. However, here in Manhattan I assume traditional resident firedogs probably exist, but are not known to me. Our firehouses seem especially well suited to independently minded cats who require nominal care, and have the added bonus of tending to the rodent population.

From the firehouse cats stories I have read (and which abound on the internet, should you be interested) cats generally seem to find their way to the fold after being rescued, either from fires or other sticky situations. I assume it was probably ever thus and that this photo of our fire fighting friends from the early 20th century probably acquired their two cats the same way. If you ask me, these two scrappy kits look like they are ready to get off laps and mix it up a little, especially the one on the left. I was hoping that these photos would have a little more information in person, but sadly they remain a bit duped looking and I wonder if it wasn’t actually a primitive reprint process of the day – allowing everyone to have copies of the group photos.

I assumed that these two photos were of the same firemen, casual and formal portraits, but no. If you look carefully they are not the same men – the mustaches were the first give away. Still, I present even our cat-less firemen since these photos have remained together all this time, seems fair to keep them paired here. They are early photo postcards, highly solarized over time. Both have 1904 written in pencil on the back in the same hand, there is no other information.

It probably will not surprise any of my Pictorama readers that I keep gentle tabs and a tally of cats in my greater Yorkville, New York neighborhood. One of my regrets about no longer walking across the Eastside to work every morning to work is that I no longer maintain my regular nodding acquaintance with a number of cat friends along the way. One such feline lives in the Yorkville firehouse on 85th between Lexington and Third. This fellow with marmalade spots does not generally come out to mingle, but I have spotted him, clearly in charge, keeping an eye on the interior of the firehouse and presumably its inhabitants. I did a quick search today and his name is Carlow and I uncovered an interview he gave at Interview with Carlow the Cat. I have tried to get a good photo of him for years and have failed. However, thanks to the internet and my fellow blogger, here he is shown below.

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Curiosity and the Cats

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I remember many years ago blithely quoting, “Curiosity killed the cat” to my brother who rejoined without missing a beat, “and satisfaction brought him back!” I had never heard the second part and loved it, so perfectly does it describe the intense nature of a curious kitty. Wikipedia pegs the origin of this saying in print to the early 20th century, however one can’t help but feel it goes back to a much earlier time.

If I remember correctly, the Butler cat in question was a long, svelte, but querulous orange tabby named Squash. He bore this rather inelegant name as he was the second, smaller orange tabby in the house. The elder was our massive cat Pumpkin, therefore Squash was a little Pumpkin. He was a sweet natured cat if a bit of a doofus, best remembered for being so long that he appeared to have extra vertebrae and was able to sit vertically like a human in a chair. He was also very attached to one of the other cats and could most often be found piled on him at any given moment. I don’t remember what it was that Squash was investigating at the time of this discourse. As we had a pile of cats I’m surprised I remember it was him.

These three-of-a-kind kits also appear to be orange tabbys too – stripers as Kim likes to call tabbys. Each of them is wearing a matching collar and what I think of as a bird alert bell. Whatever they are eyeing is going to have a fair chance of getting away thanks to those bells, assuming it has ears. However, as cat observers know well, a cat’s deep attention can be devoted to something we humans can’t divine or see. On numerous occasions I have found Cookie, sometimes alone often with Blackie, staring hard at one of the walls, unwilling to have their concentration broken or to be easily distracted. One can only assume that their finely tuned cat ears are focused on activity within the wall – oh my! And then there are occasions when you can tell they think something is alive and of vital interest – and it is not alive at all. Kim’s shoe laces seem to frequently fall into that category in this house, as does a recently revealed nail in the wall which drives Blackie to distraction almost daily.

These three feline beauties are sitting on an nice stone wall in a warm looking cascade of light and their fluffy fur coats shine. I have the changing light of fall on my mind these days and it could well be a sultry fall afternoon, but that could just be me too. Regardless, the person behind the camera not only caught this trio of cats at a great, unified moment, but also with bold shadows that echo them below. It is a photo postcard, although it seems like a late runner to the genre, not as old as most of what I purchase, and probably but not definitely professional. In addition, it is in perfect condition, but the nubbly scalloped edges do peg it to a certain period. There is no writing on the back and it was never sent.

Each cat tail is curled around the kitty in a different stage of unfurl and it has to be said that our friend to the far left with the largest white bib and the chap in the middle are far more intent than their brother on the far right. He is looking at whatever it is, but also appears like he might just yawn and head for a nap shortly too. Maybe he is just fooling me though. All have their ears pointed forward and precise cat toes lined up at the ready.

Orange tabby cats run predominantly to the male – Google tells me about 80/20 to males – and I have referred to them thus. However, out of the four orange cats I lived with over the course of my childhood it should be noted only three were male, so we Butlers defied the odds somewhat. Meanwhile Calicos run to virtually all female. I have found that both run toward certain personality types, but perhaps more about that another Pictorama day.

Flying to the Moon

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I guess I am a sucker for kitten balloon photos. You may remember an earlier, similar card in my post Flying Dutch Kitties, which is in all fairness, a better photograph. It was the moon that grabbed me in this one – I do love a good man in the moon. (I am, after all, married to Kim Deitch. His man in the moon images are, of course, the best and one of the many sterling qualities I married him for.) This one looks full of mischief to me. I can remember being a little kid and looking hard at the moon and being fairly sure I could put together the face of the man there.

This appears to be an American made card, sent from Chicago in 1912, but the specific date is obscured. It was sent to Austria however, and there is a long note, penned in tiny German I have no hope of translating. Landor, the maker of the card, seems to have been partial to cat photo postcards, made at the turn of the century, but I cannot find the history of the company online.

Unlike the masterfully constructed set in Flying Dutch Kitties, this one is deceptively simple. As if you could have easily taken this photo at home with a couple of kittens, string and tissue paper. For me, these are the photo equivalents of how I felt about the Little Rascals when I was a kid. You would look at those various stitched together vehicles, clubhouses and staged shows and the construction seemed like it should only be just within your reach – which of course, wasn’t true at all. Now I frankly marvel at the thoughtful construction and technology of them.

As for me, I have failed to record Cookie and Blackie doing any of their “tricks” for the camera – hind leg standing and boxing; Cookie giving Kim high fives; or her skill in moving a small rocking chair she is partial to. Candid photos of orchid eating or displayed on Kim’s desk is about the best I can do with these two. Too bad – I could be a contender for the Queen of the Cat Video on Youtube if only I was a little bit faster with the camera.

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Cookie & Blackie in an undated photo

 

Painted Puss

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This rather lurid painted photo caught my eye recently – I guess it was something about the saucy looking woman with this cat draped around her shoulders. (My cat Zippy used to occasionally climb up around my neck when he was a youngster – while I was sitting at the drawing table. It seemed very sweet, but was a little tough on the neck and shoulders after a few minutes. I don’t know how he got the idea – I have never had another cat that did this.) Somehow the colored cat’s fur and woman’s hair have more or less merged into one here. The painted cat expression can’t hide a certain annoyance when we look closely – somehow they managed to leave kit’s whiskers white as well as some chin hairs. She, on the other hand and if somewhat garishly painted, has quite the come hither look. You boys better watch out!

This is a German card and the postmark is illegible. It was sent to someone in Holstein and there is a pencil note written in German which I have not attempted to translate, but the sender’s name is Erna Steine.

This photo reminds me that my maternal grandmother had matching high school graduation photo portraits, cap and gown, of my mother and her brother, my Uncle John, hanging in her living room. They were the first hand-painted photos that I ever saw and I was always fascinated by them. My mother’s in particular looked nothing like herself. I wouldn’t say that it had as much impact on me as the somewhat terrifying, dramatically technicolor picture of Jesus in her bedroom (that’s another whole story – Kim and I were just discussing that yesterday) which more or less scarred and colored my views on Christ for years, but it stayed with me and formed and lodged an image of my high school mother in my mind.

My Uncle John looks exactly like a younger version of him in his photo – all red hair and green eyes. As for my mother, perhaps it is the fact that my mother truly never wears make-up. (I wonder sometimes how I can be her daughter since I have delighted in it since my early teens.) The painted photo gives her vivid lipstick and rouge. My mother’s nose was also broken in an accident after that time, and it was set slightly differently – bottom line, she is barely recognizable. Yet of course, in another way she is, especially when I look at the photo with adult eyes. When my grandmother’s house was cleared out and ultimately sold, I believe my mother ended up with both photos. My parents have just moved and almost everything is still in boxes – I must remember to ask where those photos are. I would like to have them someday.

Master Willie Rowell

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Obviously it was the weird cat toy (at least I think it is a cat) on this oddball card that attracted me – strange, mysterious and sewn toy smile on his face, perched on that very worn ball toy. It must have been quite a day at the old photo studio when they decided to do that photo shoot. But he is perky (if a bit maniacal) and this card was beloved enough to make it down the generations to us today. Not surprising, perhaps, it is British and although I just received it in mail fairly recently I don’t remember it coming from there. I believe it was an American dealer.

The card was never mailed, no postage, but it is fully addressed on the back to Master Willie Rowell, Glendon, Castle Road, Torquay. Also written, To wish dear Willie a very happy day of many happy returns with love from Raymond xxxxxx x one from Phyliss. It is a sweet birthday greeting written in a clear, adult hand. Sadly birthday cards are becoming a bit rare in their own right (let alone thank you notes which, if you aren’t professionally inclined to them as I am, belong almost exclusively to the octogenarian set) as our birthday greetings now most frequently zoom across cyber space. This seems like a kindness to the less organized, who don’t have to time the purchase and mailing of a card. (They have no excuse for missing the date now however.) No less sincere, but far less tangible, the detritus of today’s felicitations will not be available for future perusal and subsequent purchase.

At the bottom is a birthday greeting written in verse,
Happiness be thine
Little lad with eyes so true
This greeting comes to-day
To wish the very best for you
On this they natal day

And, at last, I offer this as a sly advance (cyber) birthday wish to my own beloved guy – xxo and many happy returns of the day!

Tiger Chase Tired with Play

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Tiger Chase is a pretty great name for this striped fellow. A pity this photo postcard is a tad dark, which makes some of the detail, like his nicely dark striped tail, hard to see. There is a bit of string next to him, and I wonder if that is the instrument of play that has so tired him – a really intense game of string chase can do it, and of course he seems to be named for a fondness for chasing. This card came from Australia and with the rustic fence (you can just about see a sign that says Private in the lower right corner), and slightly out of focus stone building behind, it looks like a nice view of Australian countryside – timeless really. It is unused and nothing is written on the back, but it appears to be fairly old and the paper has a slightly brittle quality. Perhaps the Australians used different photo paper stock?

Of course, what we consider cat play is actually our felines sharpening and deploying their hunting and killing skills. Here at Deitch Studio, Blackie in particular seems to really lose it when playing certain games. We have one toy, a lucite rod with a bit of elastic string and an “insect” that looks like something you would fly fish with, that makes him so crazed that I hesitate to take it out. (Incidentally, when purchased the manufacturer insert suggests that the toy be put away where the cat cannot get to it – I thought this was an exaggeration, but no – left to his own devices Blackie would shred and consume it I’m afraid. He even snuck it out of the box when left on my desk one night.) Cookie mostly invents her own games – she picks high perches to jump on and off of, does laps around the apartment at high speed, and occasionally incites Blackie to riot.

When we found ourselves in a rare cat-less position several years ago, adopting Cookie and Blackie from the same litter as tiny kittens, the idea was that they would have each other to play with and keep each other company. I think I had visions of adorable cats, napping with paws around each other. However, I had not anticipated the reality that their primary form of play would be what I like to call kill the guy and that every night before bed I would hear the strangled cries of (usually) Cookie being assaulted by Blackie (after having pushed his buttons) and having to break it up. While I am mostly content to live in my dreamy, anthropomorphic cat world where there are seemingly endless, charming conga lines of kitties dancing and romping, I do realize that in their heart of hearts my little darlings, like Tiger Chase, dream dreams of being elegant killing machines, contentedly and endlessly chasing prey on the veldt or savannah of their imaginations.

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Cookie & Blackie as tiny kits, enjoying a rare moment on Kim’s desk! Pams-Pictorama.com

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Cookie here, ready for action! Pams-Pictorama.com

 

A Cat Named Boy

 

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This card caught my eye recently and I decided he was a fine addition to the Pictorama collection. At four years he has achieved quite a solid citizen look indeed, and I have long been a sucker for a fat boy cat with a spotty nose. I am especially fond of his very white bib and paws – and he is a big fellow weighing in at 24 lbs! My goodness, quite the guy. The name and information appears painted on during the photo process. I don’t really understand how, but it is very neatly and decoratively done here. Often these applied on messages of this sort look like white pen, and are usually neat if not this pretty; however sometimes such writing is more of a scrawl. I am always a bit fascinated by this – did they print it themselves? Seems unlikely. Did they send the information along with the film to be printed? Was it a kit of sorts?

I have seen photo postcard cameras and imagine that postcards like these came from a mix of home executed or maybe occasionally by itinerant photographers. According to Wikipedia, Kodak introduced the 3A Folding Pocket Camera which took film that could then be printed on a postcard back and in ’07 they introduced a service called real photo postcards which enabled people to make postcards from any photo they took so this was certainly in place by the time this card was made. I assume some place in this process they allowed you the opportunity for a title and a few words.

This card was never used or written on, but we know from the front that it was done in 1911. Until I read the Wikipedia entry I didn’t realize that the term real photo postcards originated with Kodak. Interesting, they also state that it was more widely used by the public than in Kodak marketing. These cards are still called that today, sometimes by the abbreviation rppc.

As for Boy, I wonder about his name. It seems like a careless name for a prize kitty who was ultimately beloved enough to be memorialized on film in this way. You never know about cat names though. Sometimes they just materialize and stick and you don’t know for sure how or why. I remember thinking that back when we were naming Cookie and Blackie a few years ago. Giving them names seemed so arbitrary at first. (The person who rescued them had been calling them Thing 1 and Thing 2. Although we teased them with that for a bit, and it even seemed somewhat fitting to the little crazy furry aliens they seemed to be at first, I couldn’t warm to it.) Kim christened Blackie and I named Cookie. (She’s a smart Cookie for one thing, but I once knew a glorious fat Tuxedo named Cookie belonging to a friend and I was thinking of him at the time.) You know that ultimately you will get so used to calling the kits by those names, until the idea of them and the name merges, and you eventually can’t imagine them being called anything else.