Monday, March 3, 2014

Two Cats in Bowling Green (Ohio) – and Others

          As a boy in Bowling Green in the early 1970s, we had an orange tiger cat named Fido.  Unlike the stereotype of the uncooperative, persnickety feline, Fido was happy inside or outside, good with children, and had quite a repertoire of tricks.  He was fascinated by water, and carefully watched my dad shave in the morning, darting a paw out when the tap was running.  Fido also enjoyed our toy race cars, and would occasionally chase them.  He was an amazing jumper, and could jump six feet into the air from a standstill.  He did this to reach one of his favorite sleeping spots, the curtain rods above the kitchen window.  We laughed when people said, “But Fido is a dog’s name.”  His warm fur, purring, and quirky ways still bring a smile to me after forty years.

The cat in the second picture is anonymous, but I can tell you a few things about it.  The picture was taken before 1918 on an unnamed street in Bowling Green.  The cat was probably black and white.  The feline seems to be in a good mood.  When cats have their tails sticking straight up vertically, they are usually happy.  But be careful when a cat’s ears are cocked slightly, as this one’s are.  It may be afraid of that hand behind it, which may be friendly or may be ready to swat. The Charlie Chaplin-moustache on the cat looks humorous, but the cat looks wary.  Should I purr or run?

            Cats have an unusual pedigree.  Archaeological evidence suggests that cat were domesticated as far back as 8000 years ago, although there is some evidence that cats were hanging around humans as far back as 12000 years ago.  Cats were originally domesticated for their rodent control skills.  They were worshiped as gods in Egypt, yet reviled in medieval Europe as creatures of the night.  Even now, cats are something we either love of hate.                     
Cats slip easily from domestication to a feral state.  Feral however, does not mean “wild.”  Barn cats, for example, are feral, but still depend on the world that humans built.  Barn or farm cats are rarely given names, as they come and go at will.  They have some wild characteristics, like established territories, an understood hierarchy.  But the mice and rats they eat, and the barns in which they shelter, are there because of the presence of humans.  At the other extreme, house cats are named, pampered with canned food and litter boxes, and allowed to enjoy indoor heat.  Keep in mind, however, that canned cat food only appeared in the 1930s and kitty litter after World War 2.  “Garfield,”  “Morris,” and any number of pet cats are a product of the modern world.  My pre-1918 cat, even if a pet, was likely kept outside, found part of his own food, and like most feral animals, might or might not come when you called..

One might think that feral cats are a cute, natural touch to the landscape.  My two Bowling Green cats might have understood the pull of the wild.  In 2011, the AP wire service ran a story headed, “Feral cats overrun I-75 rest area near Bowling Green.”   Twenty to thirty cats had colonized the rest stop, left there by travelers and encouraged to stay by others who fed them.  The Wood County Humane Society was called in, which live-trapped as many cats as they could.  They were then spayed/neutered and offered for adoption.

So cats have as many roles as colors.  Whether house cat, barn cat, stray, or feral, companion, worker, or pest, people must take responsibility for the cats they encounter.   Cats were domesticated to control rats and mice.  Left unrestricted cats will over-breed and become a nuisance.  Unfortunately, domestication is a one-way street.  Once we domesticated them, they became our responsibility, whether we want them or not.

[Other pictures of "Fido" are below.  The third picture is my little sister Lisa holding the Fido in 1973.  Not real clear, but how many cats would let a four-year-old hold him long enough for a picture like that?] 

Another Lighthouse Keeper on Turtle Island

            I was reading a letter dated February 21, 1847 which was advertised as being postmarked “Manhattan.”   New York, the vendor said, so I hurried through it.  But halfway down the page the writer made mention of riding on the Toledo & Monroe Railroad and visiting the village of Adrian, Michigan.  This piqued my interest.   I rechecked cancel - somewhat blurred, but definitely Ohio.  [Figure 1]  Thus, the “Manhattan” in the dateline was not the island on which the city of New York is built, but the long vanished village of Manhattan, Ohio, one of the constituent villages that now make up the city of Toledo.
The letter was quite chatty.  The writer was one Gideon Kelsey and was addressed to his nephew Eber L. Kelsey in New York State.  As we do now, Gideon Kelsey complained about the weather.  Those of us who have experienced Toledo winters can sympathize with his description:

This part of the country is very dull . . . .not snow sufficient for sleighing & the roads not good for waggons… muddy sickly gloomy winters…

Fortunately, we have overcome the next problem, as Gideon relates it:

…to this add for the present winter the small Pox which has been quite plenty of which several have died &c &c

The Toledo area was famous for its cholera, but smallpox was just as deadly.  One wonders if Kelsey was making a correct diagnosis.

            Gideon Kelsey liked what he saw of Adrian, just across the state line:

...had a pleasant ride & saw a very pretty village of some 3000 inhabitants most all from the Eastern States & quite yankeyfide [sic]  & quite lively….

             But what exactly was Kelsey doing in Manhattan, Ohio? What was his occupation?  I quote from the middle of the letter:

I left the Island the last of Dec some what out of health but have since been getting better.  I am now with the same family that I have stoped [sic] with every winter – 7 winters – a good kind & benevolent people.  I have been twice out to the Island since - once with a sleigh & horse once on skates…

            The “Island” to which Gideon Kelsey kept referring was none other than Turtle Island in Maumee Bay, which sported a lighthouse from 1832 to 1904.  Although I have not discovered much about Gideon Kelsey, I have confirmed that he served as the lighthouse keeper on Turtle Island from April 23, 1839 to November 3, 1847.  The letter I have quoted from dates from February of 1847, in the final year of Kelsey’s job as keeper.

            As we can see from the quote, Kelsey did not spend the whole year on the island.  Once Maumee Bay froze over, or “closed to navigation” as Kelsey put it, he sleighed or skated into Manhattan, and boarded with a family, the same family as in the past in 1847.  One the bay was open, Kelsey would presumably return to Turtle Island.

            Gideon Kelsey, who may have died in Cleveland in 1878 (if that was the same Gideon Kelsey) is the second Turtle Island lighthouse keeper I have stumbled across in recent years.  The story of Gordon Wilson, a later keeper, appeared in this blog.   One cannot see Turtle Island, looking out from Toledo, over a gray February lake.  But I have been lucky, twice, to unearth letters from men who experienced late winter on the island 150+ years ago.