Historic Tails

The Waltzing Cat of Maine and the Struggle for Freedom

small catMuch was made in 1910 of the sensational feline, “The waltzing cat of Lewiston, Maine.” Prince was his name, and his prowess was celebrated in newspapers across the country. He was “owned,” so the newspapers would have it, by Mrs. Lutie Rowe of 80 Lowell St. in Lewiston, and the one-year-old, 11-pound Prince was reported to “dance whenever he hears music of any sort.”

He was, of course, much more than that. He was a symbol of the failure of the American dream to include all inhabitants of the country at the start of the 1900s. The promise of the American Revolution was one of freedom and equality. The continued exhibition of cats for amusement was but one example of how this promise was not yet fulfilled.

Prince and his waltzing display, as students of history know, was the legacy of centuries of “cat performers” celebrated by our European ancestors.

Postcard of performing cat.

Postcard of performing cat.

It was not unusual to see cats featured in all manner of entertainment. They were even paired off with dogs or mice. These unnatural pairings were patterned on, and reminiscent of, the old-world decadence that the new American democracies were still struggling to shed themselves of.

Though many would erase this stain from our history, the ugly truth is writ large for all to see:

In Belgium, cat racing persisted well into the 1800s.

Cassel’s Old and New London reports on the English traditions of cat performance during the 1700s. It noted:  “Cats may be taught to perform tricks, but they always do so unwillingly.”

And of course in France there was a scandal in the 1800s: A line in the budget was allotted for keeping of cats for purposes of eliminating mice from public buildings.

English cat shown playing unnaturally with mice

English cat depicted playing unnaturally with mice

So the people of France don’t like cats eating mice? Let them eat cake was, I suppose, more to their liking.  When Germany’s Angela Merkel is done with the French people, they will be forced to scrabble across the floor themselves for a meal as succulent as a mouse, and they will yearn for the days when they were overseen by beneficent rulers who saw fit to ascribe a portion of the public budget for care of the cat…

But enough, we must move forward. Cats are still not afforded the full benefits of citizenship though they have, as we know, advanced closer to full enjoyment of their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of mice.

hCNN

– This has been a commentary from the history Cat News Network.

 

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