WEEKEND HISTORY: WHEN FEARSOME ‘PIRATE CATS’ ROAMED THE UPPER WEST SIDE

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One hundred years ago, the residents of the Upper West Side bolted their doors in fear of a group of marauding cats that hunted the neighborhood, stealing food and keeping locals up with their screams.

Or so wrote a clearly amused New York Times reporter in an article dated July 24, 1916.

The story says that the cats were led by “Wang, a tailless mauve cat from Formosa,” who had escaped from a “careless sea Captain.” As many as 100 cats would roam the streets at night, particularly West 80th between Amsterdam and Columbus, ducking into basements or sneaking into grocery stores to steal food. Janitors tried to get dogs to chase them away, but the canines would cower in their rooms “hiding under the bed” when the cats came by.

The immigrant janitors and residents compared the cats to other fearsome beasts:

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A policeman blamed the problem on the new practice of putting lids on garbage cans, which kept the cats out of the trash and made them hunt for food.

Compared to these cats, the rats of today seem practically tame — cute even!

Cat photo via Etsy, which sells cat eyepatches.

To read other entries in our weekend history series, click here.

ABSURDITY, HISTORY | 4 comments | permalink
    1. Howard Freeman says:

      That clip from the Times — whether containing true details or fantastical — affirms my love of language. Great find!

    2. dannyboy says:

      “Etsy, which sells cat eyepatches.”

      Thanks. I’ve been stumped over Suki’s Halloween costume.

    3. Zeus says:

      Illegal alien cats predate illegal alien humans.
      How refreshing that the worry was about feline rather
      than about us.

    4. Treehugger says:

      Reminds me of the time we first moved to the UWS in the 70’s. The window was open at night and we heard yowling like I’d never heard before, never heard a baby cry like that. Turned out it was feral cats staking out their territory. Over time, they disappeared.