Actually, this is more a tale of three cats, all of whom I had the pleasure to meet on my recent visit to New York City. I saw lots and lots of little dogs being walked by their people on the streets of Manhattan, but nary a feline. The exceptions being the two gorgeous marble lion sculptures that grace either side of the steps leading up to the magnificent main branch of the New York Public Library on 5th Avenue. North of the steps you’ll meet “Fortitude”, and on the south side, “Patience.” The lions, commissioned in 1910-11, were created by one of America’s foremost sculptors, Edward Clark Potter. Originally named “Leo Astor” and “Leo Lenox” in honor of John Jacob Astor and James Lenox, founders of The New York Public Library, their names were changed in 1930 by Mayor LaGuardia to capture the characteristics that New Yorkers would require to survive adversity during the Great Depression.
The other New York cat that I met last week was “Mathilda”, who makes her home in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel, where Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woolcott, George S. Kauffman, Franklin P. Adams, Heywood Broun, Robert Benchley, Edna Ferber, and other literary and theater luminaries met daily for lunch. Sometime in 1930, then-owner of the Algonquin, Frank Case, adopted a bedraggled little Ragdoll cat who wandered into his hotel one day. Actor John Barrymore, a guest at the hotel, suggested that the cat must have a theatrical name, and so the little Ragdoll was dubbed “Hamlet.” Over the years, there has been a long succession of the gentle and friendly Ragdolls residing at the Algonquin. When the current resident happens to be a male, it is named “Hamlet”, and if it is a female, it is called “Mathilda.” On my visit, I explored just beyond the bar at the Algonquin and was rewarded by finding the famous round table, behind which hangs a painting featuring caricatures of the so-called “Vicious Circle.” Included in the painting is the cat. Afterward, I found “Mathilda” cat-napping on the luggage trolley in the lobby.