Foote's Catorium  (1896) 

From The Idler, Sep 1896

"Cats supplied with Pure Milk and Wholesome Meat! Mice for Mental Relaxation, and Sparrows for Sport! Morals strictly attended to! Make your Holidays successful by making your Cats Happy!" That's the way the advertisement reads, and I think it's about as attractive as any advertisement you ever came across.




DID I know Sam Foote?" said the bar-keeper. "Well! I should smile! Why I knew Sam from the time that he was three years old. We were like two brothers. There wasn't hardly a day chat we didn't fight, and I'm free to say that Sam generally had the best of it. I was his best man, as you might say, the first time he was divorced. I sat alongside of him in the court-room, and sort of braced him up, and after the thing was over I had him and his late lady to a bang-up divorce supper, and I never saw two people enjoy a supper more than they did. Sam was a white man all the way through, but he wasn't a practical man. He was full of ideas, but they were all bad, or at any rate they turned out bad when he tried to carry them out. Did ever you hear about his Catorium? It was a good scheme in some respects, but Sam made a most everlasting muddle of it.

He was living in Chicago at the time, not two blocks from here, and one day he came to me and says, "I've struck it this time. Before the year is out I shall be a rich man, and you and I will take a trip to Yurrup at my expense, and call on every king and emperor in the business."

"What's your little game?" says I. "Is it anything that you want to keep quiet?"

"Not at all," says he, "and if it was I could trust you. Here's the whole scheme, and I don't think that you or anybody else will say that it aint practical.

"I've been looking into the statistics of Chicago lately, and I calculate that there are on an average five thousand families that go into the country every summer from the first of July till the first of October. Now it is safe to say that at least three-fourths of these families keep a cat, and most of them think a heap of it. What troubles them is how to dispose of their cats while they are in the country. They can't leave the cats to starve, and they can't take them with them. The consequence is that when a family owning a pet cat goes into the country, somebody has got to be left behind in the house to look after the cat. Of course this costs money, and is a risk besides, for when you leave a caretaker in your house you can never feel sure that the caretaker won't invite every burglar in Chicago to supper the first night you are out of town. My own idea is that, besides these five thousand families that go into the country, there are at least a thousand more that stay at home all summer, just because they can't make up their minds to leave their cats behind them."

"I aint denying what you say," said I, "but I don't see yet how you are going to make money out of cats."

"It's this way," says Sam; "I'm going to open a Catorium, where cats will be boarded during the summer months."

"Where did you get that name?" says I.

"I got it in the Zoological Garden. The place where they keep the carnivorous animals is called the Carnivorium. Similarly a place where cats are kept ought to be called a Catorium. There is nothing like giving a thing a scientific name. People will send cats to a Catoriutn who wouldn't dream of sending them to a plain Cat's Home.

"What I mean to do is this. I've hired the old skating-rink in Three-hundred-and-First Street—the one that has been condemned by the authorities, and is to be torn down next spring. I've got it for six months at a rent of fifty dollars, and it will hold a good two thousand cats. I'm going to advertise in all the papers that I'll take cats to board at the rate of fifty cents, a week, and give them the best of care.

"Cats supplied with Pure Milk and Wholesome Meat! Mice for Mental Relaxation, and Sparrows for Sport! Morals strictly attended to! Make your Holidays successful by making your Cats Happy!" That's the way the advertisement reads, and I think it's about as attractive as any advertisement you ever came across.

"Now there isn't the least doubt that out of the five or six thousand families that want to go into the country for the summer, at least a thousand will jump at the chance of leaving their cats at the Catorium. Suppose that I get only five hundred cats, and that on an average they stay with me eight weeks. Five hundred cats for eight weeks at fifty cents, a week is two thousand dollars. Say that my expenses are, all told, two hundred and fifty dollars, and as I make the calculation they can't possibly be more than that, I shall then have fifteen hundred dollars dear profit. The second year I shan't have less than two thousand cats, and shall clear at least six thousand dollars. I tell you that my Catorium is the bluest business scheme of the century, and it won't be very long before the papers will be full of paragraphs about the 'Hon. Samuel Foote, the eminent Chicago millionaire.' You come round to the Catorium when I get it in full swing, and you'll see that I have been telling you the exact truth."

I didn't think much of Sam's schemes as a general thing, but it really looked as if this time he had struck a good idea, and I took a good deal of interest in his Catorium. He spent about a hundred dollars fitting up the old rink for the reception of his boarders. Along the sides of the place he had a thousand small bunks, for all the world like the bunks in a steamer's cabin, and every one had its number painted over it. The floor of the rink was covered with asphalt, and was in middling good condition; but the walls were full of rat holes, and Sam stocked the place with five hundred mice and two hundred and fifty big rats. Down the middle of the rink he had a trough which he calculated to fill with milk every morning; and on the rafters in the roof there was a big colony of sparrows, which Sam introduced, so as to furnish the cats with healthy recreation.

The day the Catorium opened I was there to see how the thing worked. Sam sat in a little office, like the ticket office of a railroad station, and took in his cats through the window, giving a handsome printed receipt for them. He had got hold of a book of forms such as they use at the Police-station, and he filled one of these forms out whenever he received a cat. For instance, he took in a tabby cat from a friend of mine, and the receipt read, "Name, Thomas G. Thunnan; age, two years; residence, Number 10. Lake Avenue; occupation, general house cat; religion, unknown; number of cell, 157." This gave the affair a mighty serious and business-like aspect, and people who brought their cats were so much pleased with their receipt that they went away full of admiration of Sam's business talent.

The Catorium opened at eight o'clock, and by nine o'clock the stream of cats that was pouring in was amazing. People stood in a long line with their cats in their arms, waiting to hand them over to Sam. Just as fast as he could make out his receipts he took his cats in through the window, and handed them to his assistant, at the same time singing out the number of the bunk assigned to each cat. The assistant stowed the cats away in their respective bunks according to instructions, and he and Sam were about the two busiest men in Chicago, By noon Sam had taken in five hundred and seventy odd cats; and in the course of the week more cats kept trickling in, till, according to Sam's figures, he had pretty near seven hundred, not counting unexpected kittens.

As I said, my first idea was that Sam had really struck a good thing; and so he had, only he slipped up in managing it. His first mistake was in not taking pay for his cats in advance, and his next mistake was in supposing that any cat would be willing to stay in its proper bunk. If you know anything about cats, you know that a cat is the most conceited animal on earth. You can put a cat in the best arm-chair in the house, but you can't make the cat stay there. She or he, as the case may be, will say, "I don't let no man select no chair for me," and with that the cat will take another chair, and, as a rule, will always take just the identical one that you want for yourself. Sam, not being intimate with cats, and, considering all the bunks were just alike, supposed that the cats would be contented to stay where they were put; but there wasn't one of them who didn't change his or her bunk the minute Sam's assistant had turned his back. The consequence was that those cats were so everlastingly mixed up that the smartest old maid that ever lived couldn't have identified her own animal.

What with good food, and no end of mice to catch, and lots of sparrows to swear at, Sam's cats had a bang up time. Of course considerable fighting went on, especially at night; and there were times when two tom cats would start a difficulty, and the rest would join in, and there would be a pile of cats about six feet high, swearing, and biting, and kicking till the whole place was full of flying fur, and Sam would have to go in and cool them off with buckets of cold water. However, it wasn't often that anyone was killed; and there wasn't any sickness to speak of among the cats. What discouraged Sam a little was the avalanche of kittens that begun almost as soon as the Catorium was opened. In the course of the first four weeks a hundred and fifty or sixty kittens made their appearance, and Sam considered that this was playing it low down on him. You see he couldn't let the kittens die, and he knew that he couldn't charge board for them; they never having been entered on his books and receipted for. I told him that he ought to consider the kittens as a sort of interest on his investment in cats, and that by fair rights the kittens were his property. But this didn't satisfy him, he not having any use for kittens, and knowing well that the market was so overstocked that kittens wouldn't fetch ten cents a gross,

Along towards the first of September, when it was nearly time for the owners of the cats to return to town, Sam told me how the cats were all mixed up, owing to their refusal to stay in their proper bunks; and he admitted that he should probably have some difficulty in satisfying the owners. I saw at once what a fix the man was in, and I took pains to be on hand on the first of September to see the fun. The first cat claimant was a middle-aged woman, who handed in a receipt for cat number fifty-three. Sam went into the Catorium, and brought out a black and white cat with four kittens, and handed it over to the woman, remarking that she was getting a good deal more cat than she had originally left with him.

"That ain't my cat," says the woman. "My cat is a black tom, and I want him, and I don't want no other."

"Your cat, madam," says Sam, "was number fifty-three, as you will see by looking at your receipt I can't help what it was when you brought it here. The best of food and the best of accommodations will do a good deal towards improving a cat. That's the identical cat you left with me, and I'll thank you to pay me two dollars, and take the dear, sweet animal away."

Well! the woman was about as mad as any woman I ever saw, and I've been married three times. She threw the cat and all four of the kittens in Sam's face, and kept on demanding her own precious Tommy, till Sam got frightened, and told her to come into the Catorium and find her cat She did so, but she went away without paying, and left Sam feeling pretty small. That was only a sample of what happened with everybody who came for a cat Sam never once produced the correct cat, and of course everybody got mad, and said that Sam was a swindler. He tried letting people in to find their own cats, but he soon found that it wouldn't work. It was like letting people select their own umbrellas at a public concert. By the time the first twenty or thirty people had been allowed to look for their cats, Sam found that all his best cats were gone. Every man or woman who came for a cat carried away the handsomest animal they could find, and when Sam shut down on this proceeding he had hardly a swell cat left. Along about noon there was so big a crowd at Sam's office, and such an everlasting row, that I slipped out and called a policeman, who made Sam close his establishment, and took him home in a cab, so as to protect him from the mob.

That night Sam came around to see me, and confessed that he was a ruined man. He couldn't possibly return his cats to their owners, and consequently he couldn't collect his pay. The only comforting thing about the affair was that he found out that he couldn't be sued for stealing cats. He had been to a lawyer, who told him that the law didn't recognise property in cats, which, as I afterwards found out, was true. If you steal a dog you can be arrested, but you can steal every cat in Chicago, and the owners can't touch you. The lawyer told Sam that all he had to do was to keep his Catorium locked up till people had got tired of demanding their cats, and that then he could quietly drown the whole lot. It was a consolation to Sam to know that he couldn't be sent to jail, but when he reflected that he was out of pocket some two hundred and fifty dollars, and that he wouldn't receive a cent for all his summer's work and outlay, he was naturally pretty downhearted.

Sam followed the lawyer's advice, and kept his Catorium closed, and himself out of sight. This saved him from a lot of abuse, but it didn't help him out of his trouble. About a dozen cat owners, when they found that they couldn't get back their cats, swore to make things as unpleasant for Sam as possible, and they hit on the plan of having him arrested for cruelty to animals, provided he should give them the slightest chance. They formed a committee, and took turns in watching outside the Catorium to see if the animals were properly fed and watered. Sam knew that it wouldn't do to give the committee any plausible reason for complaining of him, and therefore he felt obliged to feed the cats twice as often as was really necessary. Every morning and every afternoon he had gallons of milk, and pounds of cat's meat carried into the Catorium, and he kept his assistant in the place night and day to see that the cats didn't fight, and attract attention by their howls. All this cost money, and Sam was pretty near at the end of his purse. It looked as if he would have to feed those miserable cats all winter, for the committee showed no signs of letting up on him, and he knew that the minute he neglected the cats, or tried the experiment of drowning a few of them, he would be hauled up and fined for cruelly. What especially aggravated him was the way the cats kept on increasing. By November there were over four hundred kittens of different sizes in the establishment. It looked as if there was a deliberate plan on the part of the cats to ruin him. "If I have to keep those cats till spring," said Sam, "there will be about two thousand of them. If I can't drown them, I had better go and drown myself" And then he used language about cats in general which I won't repeat, but which was no more than natural under the circumstances.

The weather got to be pretty bad in November, and the committee found that watching outside the Catorium at night wasn't as amusing as it had been. I recommended Sam to take fifty or a hundred cats down to the lake in bags every night, and so get rid of them by degrees, but he said that it wouldn't be safe, and that he hadn't the courage to try it. Somebody would be sure to find out that he was drowning cats, and then the committee would have him arrested. As for letting the animals loose, that wouldn't do either, for the committee would have charged him with turning innocent cats out to starve, and public sentiment was so down on Sam that he would have been found guilty of almost anything, if he had been brought into court.

One day I saw an advertisement that gave me an idea. It was a big poster, notifying the public that a meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Woman was going to be held in the Mormon meeting-house. This was a big building that stood next to the Catorium, and had been vacant for several years, owing to there being no Mormons in Chicago—the boys having spent a lot of money in tar and feathers by way of inducing the Mormon congregation to emigrate. As soon as I saw the poster I sent for Sam and told him about it. "What you want to do," said I, "is to have your cats attend this meeting for the Advancement of Woman. There will be about six or seven hundred old cats in petticoats present at that meeting, and there is no sort of reason why your own cats shouldn't join them and take part in the proceedings. You just pass your cats in at the window of the Mormon meeting-house the night before this Society holds its pow-wow, and then you leave town by the first train in the morning. Nobody can charge you with having treated the cats cruelly, and if anybody says you have turned them out to starve, you can reply that you let them go to the meeting so as to improve their minds, and that if they didn't come back to the Catorium it wasn't your fault."

Sam took to the scheme at once, and I agreed to come down to the Catorium at night and help him carry the cats over to the meeting-house. It was considerable of a job, but we finished it about two o'clock, and shut up the window of the meeting-house and came away.

The meeting was to begin at ten o'clock the next morning, and I was on hand when the doors were opened. A procession of Advanced Women with a band of music arrived at the same time and marched into the meeting-house with banners flying and brass instruments blowing, and a chorus of Advanced Women singing an advanced female hymn. The cats didn't wait to see the show, but every blessed one of them bolted under the stage that had been erected across the upper end of the meeting-house. I was only in time to see the last of them disappearing under the stage, and at first I thought that I should see no more of them while the meeting lasted. But this turned out to be a mistake. After the meeting was opened, the Advanced Women took to making speeches, and the house was middling quiet, One woman had been speaking for about half an hour, and she was abusing men as lively as you please, when one of the tom cats judged that the thing had gone far enough, and that it was time for him to take a hand in the proceedings. So he ripped out a few curses and a few yells, and, so far as I could understand, pitched into another cat that probably had expressed some sympathy with the object of the meeting. The cats were crowded together pretty thick under the stage, and being hungry as well as generally discontented, they were ripe for a difficulty. In less than a minute every cat that wasn't occupied with family cares had joined in, and if ever you have heard the noise that two cats can make fighting in the back-yard, you can imagine what happened when four or five hundred went in for an argument about the advancement of women. I've seen pretty lively times at a meeting of the Chicago Common Council, but I never saw or heard anything to compare with that consolidated cat-fight. The woman who was speaking fainted away on the spot, and there was a panic in the building that couldn't have been worse if there had been an alarm of fire. The women all yelled and rushed for the door, and the tearing of dresses and scattering of hairpins, and general wreck and ruin that went on was what might have been expected if a hamper of rats had been let loose. Knowing what was the matter I kept quiet, waiting for the meeting-house to be cleared, and for the women that had fainted and were lying around here and there, to come to their senses again. There was such a tremendous crush around the door that it must have been fifteen minutes before the place was emptied, and all that time the cats kept on arguing, and the fur kept sifting out through the openings under the stage, till the whole place seemed sort of hazy with it.

I went home just as the police and the fire department arrived. They turned the hose on the cats, so I am told, and the policemen killed the bulk of them, on the ground that they bad all gone mad. I don't know but what they had gone mad, and, considering the speeches they had been compelled to hear, I can't say as I can blame them. The surviving cats scattered through the neighbourhood, and that was the end of Sam's Catorium, so far as he and the cats were concerned. Some of the Advanced Women did try to make out that Sam had attempted to murder the lot of them by introducing mad cats into their meeting; but Sam was far enough away from Chicago by that time, and besides, nobody could prove that he had anything to do with putting the cats into the Mormon meeting-house.

If Sam had only had the foresight to collect pay for his cats in advance, and the ordinary good sense to fasten labels round their necks, so that he could identify them when they were called for, his Catorium would have made him a rich man; but that was always the way with him. He would invent a first-class scheme, and then muddle it so that it would be a first-class failure. For all that, he was a good, honest chap, and when I heard that he had been hung by mistake out in Montana—he being suspected of stealing mules, which it afterwards turned out had been stolen by the Mayor of the next town—I must say that I felt honestly sorry for him.

This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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