Friday, January 19, 2018

The Purrfect 10: Meet Cattarina, Edgar Allan Poe's Feline Muse

We love reading and researching anything and everything about cats, and wanted to find a fun and unique way to share the interesting facts we learn with you! Since top 10 lists are very popular in the blogosphere, we created The Purrfect 10 as a way to present 10 educational or fascinating tidbits about a wide variety of cat-related topics, everything from health issues to cat breeds to famous felines.


One of Edgar Allan Poe's most famous works is the short story The Black Cat, but in real life he was owned by a beautiful tortoiseshell cat named Cattarina. Unfortunately cats weren't celebrated two centuries ago as they are today so facts about her life are few, but when I found out that one of my all-time favorite authors was owned by a tortie I started doing some digging. Today is Edgar Allan Poe's birthday, but the subject of this month's edition of The Purrfect 10 is the one and only Cattarina...

1) Historians believe Cattarina became a part of the Poe family (Edgar, his wife Virginia, and her mother Maria Clemm) in late 1839/early 1840 while they were living on Coates Street in Philadelphia.

2) Nicknames were popular in their home - Edgar was simply Eddie, he called his wife Sissy, and his mother-in-law was referred to as Muddy. Cattarina herself was sometimes called Catters or Kate, and her name has been spelled both with one T or two.

Drawing by Chas. Sheldon, image courtesy Poe Museum.

3) Edgar and Cattarina formed a very close bond. She reportedly preferred to eat from his hand, was depressed when he traveled, and enjoyed perching on his shoulder while he wrote, "purring as if in complacent approval of the work proceeding under [her] supervision,” according to one observation. (Hopefully she took lots of cat naps while he was writing The Black Cat!)

4) Poe's wife suffered from tuberculosis for 5 years and during the winter of 1846, when Poe was destitute and Virginia was dying, Cattarina would curl up on the bed with her to provide much needed comfort. One visitor to their home during this time described how Virginia had no source of warmth other than her husband's coat and the cat. He wrote: "The wonderful cat seemed conscious of her great usefulness." Virginia passed away in January 1847 at only 24 years old.

5) In 1840 Poe write an essay titled Instinct vs. Reason - A Black Cat in which he writes, "The writer of this article is the owner of one of the most remarkable black cats in the world..." and proceeds to tell the story of how she (presumably Cattarina) had figured out how to open a latched door using a series of perfectly timed movements.


6) In 1844 the Poes traveled to New York City, leaving Muddy and Cattarina behind while Edgar chased success in the American literary world. They stayed at a boarding house in Greenwich Village where the landlady provided such an impressive feast that he wrote home, "I wish Kate could see it - she would faint. You can't imagine how much we both do miss you. Sissy had a hearty cry last night, because you and Cattarina weren't here." Within the week he wrote a piece for the New York Sun about a transatlantic trip in a gas balloon titled "The Balloon Hoax" that earned him enough money to send for Muddy and Cattarina.

7) Poe died at the age of 40 on October 7, 1849. Cattarina joined him in death within weeks, discovered by Muddy upon returning to the family cottage at Fordham for a last load of boxes. Her death is every bit as mysterious as that of her beloved owner.

8) Poe's cause of death continues to be debated to this day, with one theory being that he died of rabies. Since Cattarina passed so shortly after, some wonder if he could he have contracted it from her. It's worth noting that there was no available vaccine for pets at the time.



9) Cattarina is the star of her very own cozy mystery series by Monica Shaughnessy, and also the subject of a short biography, Poe's Uncanny House Cat by Ed Sams.

10) Cattarina's legacy lives on! In November 2012 a trio of kittens were found on the grounds of the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia. Museum staff named them Edgar, Pluto (after the cat in The Black Cat), and Cattarina. Cattarina was adopted by a museum staffer, but Edgar and Pluto have become official mascots of the Poe Museum and can be visited there today. A fun interview with Edgar and Pluto can be found here.

15 comments:

  1. My human wants to go to the Poe Museum now and see Edgar and Pluto!

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  2. We think that museum would be cool!
    WE love that Poe had a Tortie too!
    Purrs Georgia,Julie and JJ

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  3. I love this post! I knew Poe had a tortie, but I certainly never knew this much about her. Thanks for linking to our interview too! :)

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  4. Wonderful post, Melissa! Thanks for the info. I’ve visited the Poe Museum but the cats were off sleeping somewhere.

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  5. I love love love this post! Poe is also one of my all-time favorite authors, and learning about his Cattarina just made my day.

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  6. i love Poe's work and did not know he had a tortie! Now I love him more!I wonder if Amarula hanging around improves my writing?

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  7. Funny, I haven't read any Poe, but I've seen plenty of movies made from his stories! I would go visit that museum!

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  8. Edgar Allan Poe has always been a favorite ... but now that I know about Cattarina ... I have respect for him on a totally different plane. Back then, people probably looked down on his mentions of his fur-baby - no children - cats weren't really pets, but employees ... like people look down on "cat ladies" today. I can't even imagine all we've lost from EAP's untimely death.

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  9. Purrs from Samantha (junior Tortie, still learning to sit quietly on laps--she prefers to wrap herself round the back of my neck, a bad habit she learned when much smaller, and appears to be growing big enough that she needs retraining fast).

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  10. Oh, such a sweet tortie story, as well as Poe! Thank you for sharing- and purrs from my fur babies!

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  11. What a great post ! I ordered the books immediately ! Thank you.

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  12. This is such an interesting post. I didn't know anything about Poe's kitty.

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  13. I totally agree with Mary, what a great post!
    Absolutely fascinating.
    Have a super weekend...

    Noodle and crew

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  14. This is wonderful, Mudpie! Terrific post! Thank you!

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  15. This is wonderful, Mudpie! Terrific post! Thank you!

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