Archive for the ‘Cat Mascots’ Category


This is not Duffy MacNab, but it’s a black ship’s cat, so I chose him as our stand-in model for this story.

On August 18, 1912, the Anchor Line steamship Caledonia arrived from Glasgow at New York’s Pier 64 with numerous passengers – and 12,000 barrels of Scotch herring.

According to The New York Times, as the ship steamed up the Hudson River around noon, “all the cats along the waterfront left their respective piers and went running up West Street, meowing in chorus excitedly, with their tails in the air, to the Anchor Line dock.”

When Passenger Manager W.J. Reilly arrived on the scene, he asked the sailors what they were doing with all of the seafaring cats, as they were not allowed to have so many pets on the ship at the company’s expense. He knew that the ship already had one very popular ship’s cat , so he was quite confused about the clowder that had gathered along Pier 64.

It wasn’t until the ship pulled up to the pier and the barrels of herring were carried off that Mr. Reilly realized why so many felines were crying so lustily on the pier. (Duffy MacNab, on the other hand, probably thought all the cats — especially those of the female persuasion — were coming to welcome him.)


The Anchor Line, which included the ships Caledonia, Cameronia, Colombia, and California, operated out of Pier 64 on the Hudson River at the foot of West 26th Street.  The wooden single-deck pier was just 500 feet long — the exact length of the passenger ships.

Duffy MacNab Joins the T.S.S. Caledonia

Launched in 1904, the twin screw steamship (T.S.S.) Caledonia registered at 500 feet and 9,223 gross tons out of the Glasgow Yard of D. & W. Henderson for the Anchor Fleet, the third vessel of five that would be so-named for the line. Powered by a massive steam engine, the British passenger liner could go up to 18 knots while comfortably accommodating 383 first-, 216 second-, and 869 third-class passengers.

From 1905 to 1914, the Caledonia was one of the premier passenger liners that steamed between Glasgow and New York City on a weekly basis. Her fastest passage (from Ireland) was 6 days and 20 hours. The rates for passage ranged from $67.50 to $125, depending on the accommodations.

On March 25, 1905, Caledonia made her maiden voyage from Glasgow, Scotland, to New York and back. In addition to the passengers and crew, on board was a young black cat that the crew named Duffy MacNab — or The MacNab, for short. (The passengers called him Duffy MacNab, because that was the name engraved on his collar, but the men called him The MacNab.)


Here is the music room on the Caledonia, from a 1912 Anchor Line brochure. I see a lot of comfy chairs where a ship’s cat could take a nap.

For the next eight years, Duffy MacNab sailed over 200,000 miles. He made 18 Atlantic crossings, and never once missed a trip either way. He was certainly on board on April 9 1912, when a sailor on the Caledonia, traveling eastbound from New York to Glasgow, transmitted a wireless message to the westbound Bulgaria warning of a large ice field that was likely the one subsequently encountered by the Titanic five days later.

Although he obviously loved sailing across the Atlantic, Duffy also enjoyed spending time ashore (he no doubt courted numerous lady cats of Glasgow and New York). He was always the first to land (by way of jumping from ship to pier) and the first to board (by way of the gangplank). As ship’s surgeon Dr. Jenkins told a reporter for The New York Times:

“When we quit the ship after our arrival in port The MacNab would always go, too, and would not, as a rule, be seen again until the day to sail rolled around, and then just before the gangplank was taken in he would come marching aboard with all the dignity and self-importance of the king of cats that he was.”

The Macnab Portrait

Duffy MacNab was probably named after Francis Macnab (1734-1816), a landowner and 16th chief of the Scottish Clan Macnab. Big Francis, as he was called, stood over six feet tall, and was quite the womanizer (he fathered at least 32 children). Like Duffy MacNab, he was also a big gambler. This portrait, titled “The Macnab,” was painted by  Sir Henry Raeburn in 1802.

The MacNab’s Last Jump 

When the Caledonia arrived at Pier 64 on August 3, 1913, it was Duffy MacNab’s 18th Atlantic crossing. As he had done numerous times before — albeit from a distance of only four feet — Duffy prepared to jump from the forecastle of the ship to the roof of the pier. But this time he tried to jump too far.

As The New York Times reported the next day:

“The mascot was looking at the roof of the pier and his attitude showed that he was figuring out whether or not he could make the jump from the liner to the pier roof, a distance of some ten feet… So he threw caution to the wind and jumped. His black body glistened in the sunlight, and then like a broken aeroplane it began to drop. Rocket fashion it fell through the air, and a moment later The MacNab struck the water. The sound of the splash was heard both on the pier and on the ship.”

Quartermaster Angus MacLean, aka, “The Kaid,” witnessed his beloved cat make his death leap. MacLean jumped overboard, dove under the pier, and tried to reach for MacNab. But by that time the cat had been carried away with the tide. After swimming for about 15 minutes, the grief-stricken sailor was hauled back on board.


Captain Francis Henry Wadsworth, Caledonia, 1913 

As the other sailors gathered around MacLean, many of them had tears in their eyes. They had all loved their feline mascot, and his sudden death hit them all very hard. When Pursor Johnson and Dr. Jenkins went up to the forecastle to see what was wrong, they also joined in the mourning.


This is actually a sailor on the USS Olympia in 1898, but it could have easily been Quartermaster MacLean with Duffy MacNab on the Caledonia.

“We shall never see his like again, for he was indeed a rare cat. So loyal to the ship, and with it all so intelligent. It is hard to lose him,” said Pursor Johnson.

“Yes, indeed,” agreed Dr. Jenkins. “The MacNab was a most unusual animal. I have known cats in every port here and in Europe, but none of them could compare to poor old Duffy. He was an aristocrat through and through. He would only partake of the choicest food and was unusual in that he preferred tea to milk.”

The Caledonia Goes to War

One year after The MacNab’s death, the British government converted the luxury passenger liner into a troop ship capable of carrying 3,074 troops and 212 horses. For more than two years, the ship carried soldiers and their equipment to various locations around the Mediterranean.

On December 5, 1916, while carrying mail but no troops from Greece to France, Caledonia was torpedoed by the German submarine U-65.  Although his ship was sinking, Caledonia‘s Captain James Blaikie steered the troop ship toward the U-boat and tried to ram her. Caledonia did hit the U-boat, but the U-boat stayed afloat as Caledonia sank about 125 miles east of Malta, with the loss of only one life.


In 1938, Anchor Lines transferred the lease of Pier 64 to the Munson Lines. Anchor Lines moved its ships to Pier 71 at West 30th Street, which was long enough — about 700 feet — to accommodate its larger ships. NYPL digital collections


In 1940, the old wooden pier was completely renovated. The two-story terminal was later home to the Panama Line, which vacated the pier in 1961. The pier was condemned and finally torn down in 2006. 


The old Pier 64, where Duffy MacNab jumped to his death in 1913, was torn down in 2003. Today it is part of the city’s Hudson River Park. Opened in April 2009, the green recreational pier with sloping lawns and a grove of English Oaks is a favorite for New York City sunbathers. 


The next time I take a walk down to Pier 64, I’ll take a moment of think of The MacNab, the Scottish king of ship’s cats. 







The Union Square Theatre on East 14th Street was constructed within the walls of the Union Place Hotel (later, the Morton House) in 1871. In 1887, a year after taking over the management, James Hill made extensive renovations to the exterior and interior of the theater.

In Part I of the Old New York cat story, we met Union Square Jim, the large, blue-eyed, orange tabby mascot of the old Union Square Theatre in New York City. Jim was born in the theater sometime around 1886, a year after James Hill took over as manager of the theater.

Jim was certainly well-loved by all the actors and stage hands — especially when he performed his many tricks for them — but his favorite person was janitor Michael Sweeney. Every night as Michael made his rounds, Jim would be at his side.


The old Union Square Theatre, located at 58 East 14th Street, is noted in the top left quadrant of this 1885 map. The adjacent Star Theatre (previously Wallack’s Theatre; demolished in 1902) is just south on Broadway at 13th Street. 

The Great Fall

One afternoon during the summer of 1887, a skylight on the roof of the theater sprung a leak during a heavy rainstorm. Michael reportedly went on the roof to fix it, and he took his feline friend along to get some fresh air and sunshine.

As Michael was in the progress of repairing the skylight, he heard a loud crash. Looking up from what he was doing, he saw that Jim had fallen through another skylight and was frantically trying to hang on to the framework with one paw.

Right before Michael’s eyes, Jim lost his “grip” and fell down about 80 feet to the center of the auditorium below.


Jim fell about 80 feet from the roof skylight to the auditorium seating of the Union Square Hotel.

Michael rushed down the stairs and ran into the auditorium, where he found Jim lying motionless between two rows of chairs. Micheal carried the unconscious cat into his room, where he tended to his feline friend as best he could with alcohol and bandages.

Two weeks later, Jim was alert and back on his feet again, making the rounds with Michael as if the plunge from the roof had never happened. On September 26, 1887, he made his accidental stage debut during opening night of The Henrietta, a romantic comedy written by Bronson Howard and produced by the comedians Stuart Robson and William Henry Crane.


James M. Hill took over the Union Square Theatre in 1885.

The Union Square Theatre Fire of 1888

On the afternoon of February 28, 1888, a fire broke out in a loft between the ceiling and roof of the auditorium of the theater. The flames were discovered just before 1 p.m. by stage carpenters and painters, who had been working on the stage with Ben Teal, the stage manager. James Hill was also in the building at the time; one of the stage hands ran into his office to warn him of the fire.

Union Square Jim was in the basement of the building, but no one came to warn the cat as he slept peacefully in his wicker basket.

The large fire caused extensive damage as it burned through the partitions that separated the theater from the Morton House (all the hotel guests had been safely evacuated). The two upper stories of the hotel facing Union Square caught fire, and the roof of the theater was demolished.

When the firemen got the fire under control at about 4 p.m., the walls of the hotel and theater were still intact.


Most of the damage to the theater was caused by the freezing water, which destroyed the seats, curtains, and stage scenery.

Union Square Jim Is Saved

“Has anyone seen Jim?” Michael Sweeney asked everyone when he arrived on the scene later that afternoon. When no one answered, Michael asked one of the firemen to help him find the mascot cat.

Using a lantern, the two men made their way through the basement corridor to the dressing room where Jim spent his days sleeping. There, in the flooded room, they found Jim perched on top of his basket, trying to stay dry with no means of escape in sight.

That evening, there was a reception in honor of Jim at the Criterion, followed by a “general jollification” at the Hotel Hungaria across the street.  James Hill told everyone he would have the theater reopened on March 26 with Syndey Rosenfeld’s A Possible Case.

Three months after the fire, The New York Times reported:

“Jim was in troubled spirits and was moving about with an air of dejection. The chaotic and unsafe condition of the old building since the fire drove the petted darling Jim to the narrow confines of the property room in the rear of the theater, as dark and uninviting as a tomb. He was kept by himself in this room, on a 15-foot chain. He has been slowly withering in spirit and flesh in this chilly back room, and last week refused to eat at all. This alarmed the old stage hands, and after a solemn council it was decided to take Jim each night to the Madison Square Theatre in the hope that it would revive his health and spirits.”

Jim’s mood did change as soon as he saw his old friends at the theater. According to the news article, “He purred, jumped from chair to tables, frisked about the carpet, and peeked through the curtain from time to time to watch the assembling audience.”

One night during the performance of A Possible Cause, Jim decided to take the stage again, this time leaping onto the lead actor during a very dramatic scene. Jim brought the house down with laughter as he purred and licked the actor’s head and forehead in “a delirium of delight.” Although he was led off stage, there were many bursts of laughter as the drama progressed, and, after the last curtain, repeated calls were made for the theatrical cat to come and take a bow.

I do not know for sure what happened to Jim, although a story about him in the book “Lady Lee and Other Animals Stories” by Harmon Lee Ensign suggests that he died at the Madison Square Theatre in a very dramatic fashion when he pounced on some flames on stage (an actresses’ dress caught fire when she walked too close to the gas lights). I have a feeling the author made this up (a small news article in the May 5, 1890, issue of The Sandusky Register suggests that Jim died from an illness after an unsuccessful visit with Dr. Dovey, a veterinarian on 4th Street.

The Demise of the Union Square Theatre

A year after the fire, the Union Square Theatre reopened. It had been almost completely rebuilt to the designs of John Terhune and Leopold Eidlitz (although some of the design was by Charles P. Palmer, the manager of the property). Because of the cramped site, Palmer developed a horseshoe balcony that rose in the center to make good use of the high, narrow space. The interior was painted in old gold and ivory, and the proscenium arch (the part of the stage in front of the curtain) featured a large medallion with a painting of Shakespeare. The hand-carved cherry chairs were upholstered in electric blue.


In the 1890s, the old Union Square Theatre was a vaudeville theater operated by B.F. Keith and Edward Albee. NYPL Digital Collections

In 1893,  Benjamin Franklin Keith and Edward Franklin Albee,  the most powerful and successful vaudeville producers of their time, purchased the lease for the Union Square Theatre and completely remodeled it. The offered continuous vaudeville — George M. Cohan made his New York debut on its stage.

In 1906 the theater exhibited some early motion pictures; in 1908, it was converted once again to showcase only films. As B.F. Keith’s, the theater dabbled in “the most dubious activities that a picture house can indulge in,” according to The New York Herald Tribune (alluding to racy films and lectures about sex.)  The theater was sold and renamed the Acme in 1921, which featured primarily Soviet Russian films.


In May 1920, the old Morton House (then called the Hotel Churchill), B.F. Keith’s theater, and Union Square Hotel were sold at auction for the benefit of the Courtlandt Palmer heirs. The theater continued to run films until 1936, which is when the ground floor was  divided for some dry goods stores, destroying the orchestra section of the auditorium.

In 1986, the Philips International Corporation acquired the site and completely vacated the buildings. Demolition of the theater began in 1989, and, a few later, as the building was peeled away, this amazing photograph revealed the ruined remnants of the old Union Square Theatre  — complete with its finishes still brown with smoke from the fire that almost took the last of the nine lives of Union Square Jim.


Here is 58 East 14th Street today. Photo by P. Gavan




Part I of an Old New York Cat Story


This is not Jim, but I can imagine him looking quite similar to this vintage theatrical cat.

Like most cats that became the popular mascots of New York City police stations, fire stations, hotels, and theaters in the 1800s and 1900s, Jim began his life as a vagrant cat without friends or influence.  It didn’t take him long, however, to win the hearts of the managers, actors, and patrons of the old Union Square Theatre.

In fact, one might say he literally stole the show.

As a reporter for the Detroit Free Press wrote in a feature story about the cat on August 14, 1887, Union Square Jim was “either an exceptional cat or a proof of my ignorance concerning the kind.” The reporter noted that the large sorrel cat (think “Morris” from the old 9-Lives commercials) was first and foremost a sociable cat who loved human companionship.

Jim made his home under the stage of the Union Square Theatre at 58 East 14th Street (between Broadway and Fourth Avenue), which at that time was under the management of James M. Hill. His favorite person was janitor Michael Sweeney, but he also enjoyed visiting all the members of the acting companies in their dressing rooms before every performance.

Jim could also do quite a few tricks – for example, he could “sing,” shake paws, and stand on his hind legs — and he found himself in the spotlight on more than one occasion. Let’s just say that Jim had a knack for turning a sorrowful and serious drama scene into a comedy act that brought down the house with laughter and howls of delight.


The Union Square Theatre opened on September 11, 1871. This photo was taken between December 1, 1874, and June 15, 1875, which is when “The Two Orphans” starring James O’Neill (father of Eugene) ran at the theater (then under the management of Albert M. Palmer).  NYPL Digital Collections

Our story begins in 1886, in an unused dressing room at the Union Square Theatre. There, according to the book “Lady Lee and Other Animals Stories” by Harmon Lee Ensign, a quiet brindle cat named Roxy gave birth to five kittens. The kittens were discovered by janitor Henry Sweeney, who cared for the mother cat for several weeks so she in turn could feed her kittens.

According to Ensign’s version of the story, the mother cat was severely injured (broken ribs and other injuries) when a disgruntled actor kicked her against a corridor wall. Although she suffered greatly, Roxy cared for her kittens for five more days until she passed away.


The interior of the Union Square Theatre

Within a few days, four of the five kittens also died (Henry tried to save them, but he did not know how). The smallest survived, and within a few weeks, poor little Jim was a bright and mischievous kitten.

Now, I have no historical proof of this specific part of the story — author Ensign, a New York animal rights supporter and philanthropist, may have taken liberty to embellish the tale of Jim’s birth for his book — but it makes for a good narrative.


A color illustration of the photo of the theater shown above. NYPL Digital Collections

As a kitten, Jim spent most of the day under the stage, either in the dark passageways or in the dressing room. At night, after the final curtain came down and the crowds dispersed, Jim would follow Henry on his janitorial rounds. Man and cat would walk together from the cellar, where the scenery was stored, to the roof, where the moonlight came streaming through the skylights.

During their time together, Henry taught Jim many tricks, like standing erect, walking and “boxing” on his hind legs, and flicking his tail to the left or right on command. Jim was quite intelligent, and over time he also learned how to put on a show by weeping in mock mews, posing like different actors, and performing numerous acrobatic tricks.


Madame Helena Modjeska

A few months after his first birthday, Jim was introduced to the theater proper, where he mingled with stagehands, actors, and other prominent people of the New York theater world. He was cuddled and coddled by his admirers and friends, who all considered him the mascot of the institution. And he was welcomed by manager James Hill, who considered him a good-luck charm for the theater (Jim would discharge any employee who tried to harm the cat, after giving the employee a lecture on animal cruelty).

One of Jim’s biggest fans was Madame Helena Modjeska, a renowned actress who specialized in Shakespearean and tragic roles. She gave him a wicker cradle stuffed with rich bedding materials. Jim was quite partial to this bed, and reportedly would not sleep anywhere else.

Jim also had a lady admirer in Bangor, Maine, who once sent him a plump package of catnip, which, according to The New York Times (February 19, 1888), he enjoyed “with the relish of an epicure.”

Union Square Jim Makes His Stage Debut

On September 26, 1887, The Henrietta, a romantic comedy written by Bronson Howard and produced by the comedians Stuart Robson and William Henry Crane, opened at the Union Square Theatre. Jim also chose to make his debut on the stage that night. According to a story in The New York Times, Jim got a bit frisky on stage and almost spoiled a scene.


Stuart Robson as Bertie the Lamb in The Henrietta at the Union Square Theatre in 1887. NYPL Digital Collections

Robson and Crane were angry at the large orange tabby at first, but they came to love Jim over the next few months. They even offered to buy Jim from Manager Hill and sought to have his name changed to Henrietta. Mr. Hill had to decline because one, Jim was a male, and two, he brought good luck to the theater (at least up to that time…)

A Brief History of the Union Square Theatre

In 1871, Sheridan Shook, a former butter and cheese merchant and collector with the Internal Review Service under Abraham Lincoln, signed a ten-year lease with Courtlandt Palmer, a wealthy hardware merchant and real estate speculator who owned what was then called the Union Place Hotel.

Shook renamed the hotel the Maison Doree and hired chief constructor H.M. Simons to build a variety (vaudeville) theater within the walls of the hotel. Construction began on May 1, 1871, and in a few months, a a 55- x 140-foot theater that could seat about 1,500 people replaced what had been the grand dining room of the Union Place Hotel.

The main entrance to the theater was on 14th Street and a separate entrance to the gallery and stage was on Fourth Avenue.


The Union Place Hotel, on on the southwest corner of Broadway and 14th Street, was constructed in 1849. In 1871, the Union Square Theatre was constructed within the walls of the hotel. That year, the hotel was renamed the Maison Doree by Sheridan Shook. In 1881, it was renamed the Morton House Hotel. NYPL Digital Collections  


Here’s an earlier illustration of the Union Place Hotel, immediately to the left of Broadway. Grace Church on Broadway and 11th Street is in the background.

The new theater opened on September 11, 1871, under the management of Robert W. Butler, a variety manager and former proprietor of the American Concert Saloon at 414 Broadway. One year later, Albert M. Palmer, Shook’s clerk at the IRS, took over. Under Palmer’s management, the theater operated as the Union Square Theatre Stock Co.


From 1871 to 1881, the old Union Place Hotel was called the Maison Doree. In this photo from that period, you can just make out the hotel name; just to the left, you can see the Union Square Theatre. 


Sheridan Shook

The Old Peter Stuyvesant Farm

The land on which the Union Place Hotel and adjunct Union Square Theatre occupied was once part of a 33-acre farm owned by Cornelius T. Williams, the son of Mary Magdalene Tiebout and Edward Williams, and the stepson of the late Cornelius Tiebout, a New York merchant.

Tiebout had acquired the land in 1748 from one of Peter Stuyvesant’s heirs. He built a farmhouse near the present-day intersection of East 18th Street and Park Avenue South, and named his estate Roxborough.

The land had originally been conveyed to Stuyvesant in 1651 by the Dutch West India Company. Stuvesant’s farm extended from the Bowery to the East River between present-day East 3rd Street and East 30th Street.

UnionSquareSouth1828This 1885 painting by Albertis Del Orient Browere depicts Union Square, looking south from today’s 14th Street, as it appeared in 1828. The Union Place Hotel was constructed 20 years later, right about where the white house stands. 

In 1811, when the Commissioners’ Plan established Manhattan’s street grid, the area around Union Square was mostly farmland, as pictured above. In addition to the grid, the Commissioners’ Plan provided for a public square called Union Place at the intersection of the Bowery and Broadway, just to the west of the Williams’ property. In 1832, additional land was acquired for the park, which opened to the public as Union Square in 1839.

The Final Years of Jim and the Union Square Hotel

In Part II, I’ll share some more amazing stories about Jim, the Union Square Theatre cat, and about the final years of the old hotel.