The French Hatching Cat was a large Angora cat from Paris who loved sitting on eggs and being surrounded by the baby chicks she helped to hatch. In June 1911, the French Hatching Cat journeyed from France to New York City. She then took a short trip across the Hudson River to the Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey, where she spent six weeks entertaining thousands of adults and children with her baby chicks.
An old advertising post card for Palisades Amusement Park.
I first discovered the French Hatching Cat while reading Palisades Amusement Park: A Century of Fond Memories, by Vince Gargiulo. The feline received only a brief two-sentence cameo in the 200-page coffee table book, but it caught my attention:
The French Hatching Cat.This Angora feline had an affinity for sitting on eggs and being surrounded by baby chicks. In June 1911 Nick Schenk outbid other American amusement park owners for the right to display the famous kitty and booked it for a six-week stint.
I contacted Vince Gargiulo by email, and told him I was interested in learning more about this cat for a children’s book about odd animal tales that I wanted to write.
Vince sent me a scan of an old newspaper clipping touting the arrival of “France’s ‘Freak of Nature’ Hatching Cat” in New York City. The short article stated that the Angora was scheduled to arrive toward the end of June, and was under the care of Fernand Akoud, who was director of the ethnological departments of the Jardin d’Acclimation — Zoological Gardens in Paris.
The Jardin d’Acclimation was the first ever attraction park in France, opened in 1860 by the Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie in the Bois de Boulogne. The Hatching Cat may have made her debut as an “attraction” at this park around 1910.
I did some digging, and as the story goes, Fernand Akoud had apparently introduced Europeans to the Hatching Cat at the World Exposition in 1910, which took place at the Luna Park in Brussels, Belgium.
That would be the first of many trips the feline would make from her home base in Paris, as news of the cat who hatched eggs spread across Europe.
The World Exposition took place in Brussels, Belgium, in 1910. A fire broke out on August 14, completely destroying the central area of the exposition.
Information about the Hatching Cat had reached America in 1911, where amusement parks like the world-famous Coney Island in New York and family theme parks called trolley parks were attracting thousands of people in every major city. A bidding war for the French Hatching Cat took place, with several amusement park managers aggressively making offers to bring her to America. In early June, Nicholas Schenck, the general manager of Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey, won the bid.
Aerial view of Palisades Amusement Park in the 1960s.
Palisades Amusement Park (originally “The Park on the Palisades”) was an amusement park situated atop the New Jersey Palisades across the Hudson River from New York City. The park operated from 1898 until 1971, and boasted the world’s largest saltwater swimming pool and more than 200 rides and attractions.
The park was featured in several songs, including this one by Johnny Cannon, which was later performed by Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band on their Tunnel of Love Express Tour in 1988. After the park closed, a high-rise luxury apartment complex was built on its site.
The arrival date of the Hatching Cat in New York made me wonder if she was a passenger on the maiden voyage of the Royal Mail Ship Olympic. The RMS Olympic and the RMS Titanic were sister ships of the White Star Line; the maiden voyage of both ships was under the command of Captain Edward John Smith.
Although Mr. Akoud does not appear on the passenger list of Olympic’s maiden voyage from Southampton in Great Britain to Pier 59 in New York, one can always imagine that the cat did travel on this ship with another caretaker!
DId the French Hatching Cat travel on the maiden voyage of the RMS Olympic? I like to imagine that she did!
Another possibility is that the famous cat traveled aboard the S.S. Gothic, which was also owned by the White Star Line. This passenger ship sailed from Antwerp, Brussels, to New York on June 24, 1911.
No matter which passenger ship the Hatching Cat traveled on, she would have followed this adventure with a hansom cab ride to 125th Street in New York, where she would have then boarded a ferry to Edgewater, N.J.
In Edgewater, the feline and her caretaker would have boarded one of the trolley cars that wound up the cliffs in a series of hair-pin turns to Palisades Amusement Park.
Palisades Amusement Park was originally a trolley park designed and built by the Bergen County Traction Company to attract evening and weekend riders by featuring the park as the terminus for the trolley. The scenic railway ran from a ferry slip in Edgewater, NJ, up to the park. The trolley looks like fun to me, but I don’t imagine the Hatching Cat enjoyed the ride.
Another Hatching Cat in Old New York
While searching for information about the French Hatching Cat, I came across a short article in The New York Times dated September 21, 1879: “A Cat Hatching Chickens.”
According to the story, in a “little shanty” at the northwest corner of 15th St. and Third Avenue in Brooklyn (Gowanus/Park Slope area), a cat had hatched three broods of chickens and was now sitting on a fourth. Officer Jonas Evans of the Sanitary Police Squad reported the story to the Times after searching out the kitty to satisfy his curiosity.
Many people in shanty towns like Slab City along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn raised chickens, goats, pigs and cows. In 1879, a cat was discovered sitting atop some chicken eggs in an old shanty on Third Avenue, like this shanty scene from Fourth Avenue. Brainerd Collection – Brooklyn Public Library/Brooklyn Collection
Modern-Day Hatching Cats
I also came across a few 21st-century cats with a fondness for chicken eggs, including an Australian barn cat named Bustopher, who was discovered sitting on some eggs in 2010. “I was looking for Bustopher and found him sitting on the eggs, obviously trying to incubate them,” his owner, Naomi Oliver told the Northern Territory News.
Bustopher the barn cat had a penchant for sitting on chicken eggs.
And in 2012, a stray tabby named Lizzy became a surrogate babysitter to a clutch of hen’s eggs in the U.K. According to the story, the tabby and the hen take turns babysitting: the hen watches over Lizzy’s kittens while Lizzy goes out on the prowl and Lizzy watches over the eggs when the hen needs a break.
And finally, here is a great video of a modern cat with her hatchlings:
Cat with chicks