May 25, 2011 – The ancient Egyptians worshiped cats. Russians treat them as omens of good luck. The English-speaking world, well, we seem to hate felines. We have too many clichés about violence toward catkind for me to believe otherwise. I mean, we swing their corpses and skin them in multiple ways. We stick them on hot tin roofs or in rooms full of rocking chairs. We dislike letting them out of bags and delight in curiosity killing them. Sure, we give them nine lives, and maybe that’s to make up for all that, but more than likely it’s so that we get to kill them each eight more times than we normally would. Seriously, we hate cats.
Except maybe in Catskill, NY. I mean, the name of the town might seem to back up my introductory point, but the truth is, kill is just Dutch for creek, and the large Dutch-settled areas of the Hudson Valley feature a lot of towns and rivers and landforms with that suffix. As to the prefix of the name, that’s disputed and is attributed to everything from possible local wildlife to names of historical ships, personages, fortifications, and pastimes.
Still, Catskill has recently decided to take the first four letters of its name literally and seriously.
Downtown, in an overgrown empty lot at 21 West Bridge Street, is erected a large, wooden, bobcat-shaped pavilion known as the Catamount People’s Museum.
Opened in August of 2010, the Catamount People’s Museum is more of a community art project than anything else. It was hand-built by a man named Matt Bua using scrap wood and funded by various local organizations and businesses.
The rustic-looking cat is about the size of a trailer and has light bulbs for eyes that can be turned on at night. It lounges above a nest of regionally relevant and extremely random artifacts displayed in cheap glass cases, along with local historical information on laminated sheets. There’s even a badly mummified cat shoved into the birch branches of the rafters.
Extremely shanty-like, it feels as if you’ve stumbled across the cobbled-together hovel and hoard of some homeless man with a mission from God or an important secret hidden in his past or who can teach you profound life lessons over the course of a movie plot.
Practically, Catskill has used the Trojan Cat as a music venue, a party spot, and a general picnic area. I was there on a dingy, overcast day, and, despite the large, colorful, friendly sign, the place felt less rustic and more run-down. Despite the relatively busy main street, nobody was at the museum, which felt a bit awkward and made me wonder if I should really be in there.
I assume it’s the same thought I’d have if I found myself in the innards of an actual wild cat.
Still, you’ve got to give credit to the creator and the town for turning an empty lot into an enterable cat and hangout spot. The gazebo industry could use some competition.
Stick a dead cat in your rafters, and I'll come visit you, too.
Excavated from the site during the project's construction.