Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cat Mascot of USS Maine's Mess Cooks, Martyr for Animal Rights- 1896

USS Maine's mess cooks and their feline mascot (click image to enlarge).
This is an 1896 picture of the Norfolk-based battleship USS Maine's (BB-2/c) mess cooks. Navy photographer Edward H. Hart took this picture, along with several other images of the battleship company. Hart worked for the Detroit Publishing Company and produced several dozen images of the U.S. Navy sailors between the 1880s and World War I. He was with the Atlantic Squadron off the coast of Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

In the middle of this photo, a sailor is holding a long-haired grey cat. According to sources, this cat was one of three feline mascots (along with a pug named Peggie) that kept the sailors company on board Maine. When the ship exploded on February 14, 1898, two hundred sixty-six of the ship's sailors were killed along with two of three cats. The one cat who survived became a national hero among animal rights activists.

Among these activists was Mrs. Charles Sigsbee, wife of Maine's commanding officer when the ship exploded. Mrs. Sigsbee recalled in an article for Human Advocate (a publication of the Illinois Humane Association) that, "Tom [the cat] was wounded in one foot feeling very blue indeed, with his favorite sleeping place destroyed, no friendly hands to minister to his wants and nothing but ruin and water on every side!" Commander Richard Wainwright, Maine's executive officer, found Tom and adopted him for his own.
Tom, the only one of Maine's cats who survived the
1898 explosion. According to one account, the photographer
had to give Tom a whole fish before he would stand properly
for the photo. He and his fellow Maine cats became
national heroes for animal rights. 

As for the other two cats, including the one pictured with the ship's mess cooks, they became martyrs for the emerging animal rights movement in the United States. In a pro-cat book published by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the author lauded the two cats who died for their country: "The love of cats by sailors and soldiers is well known. In the dreadful explosion of the Maine in Havana, two of the three cats perished."

Such praise for sailors was common. Animal rights groups like the ASPCA frequently used the Navy and its sailors for their humane treatment of animals as a model for the rest of the United States.

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