Comments Off on 1939: Snooky, the Sophisticated, Salmon-Loving Cat of New York’s City Hall
Snooky New York City Hall Cat

Fusion, aka Snooky, had white fur flecked with russet and dirty yellow markings – and patches of coal from having just discovered Mayor LaGuardia’s coal bin. Here she poses in her first official photo shoot with Councilman J.E. Kinsley.

On May 3, 1939, one month after popular City Hall cat Tammany died at the Ellin Prince Speyer Hospital, an 11-month-old multicolored female cat from Woodside, Queens, made her debut at City Hall. The cat was the pet of City Hall night watchman Tom Halton, who had been greatly saddened by the passing of Tammany.

Upon her arrival, the City Hall reporters named her Fusion, both for her coloring and for the newly formed City Fusion Party, a coalition of progressive Republicans, liberal Democrats, good-government types and independent Socialists who helped put Fiorello H. LaGuardia in the mayoral office. (A few reporters wanted to call her Confusion.) The reporters also welcomed her with catnip and a dish of ice cream.

Fiorello Henry LaGuardia

Fiorello Henry LaGuardia was the 99th Mayor of New York City for three terms from 1934 to 1945.

Although the name fit her very well, Tom Halton insisted that her name – the name he had already given her – was Snooky. To prove that her name was Snooky, he even produced a white collar for her on which was printed “Snooky—City Hall.” Some reporters obliged, but for years many newsmen continued to call her Fusion.

Snooky immediately fell into a daily routine, which included wandering from room to room with a rather proprietary air, stretching out on the city budget report (a large volume kept in the press room), and attending conferences in Mayor LaGuardia’s office and meetings of the Board of Estimate. Every night at 5 p.m. Tom would feed her dinner of canned salmon or tuna fish, which he kept cold in the press room water cooler.

Brooklyn-Long Island Cat Show

In December 1941, Snooky was a guest of honor at the inaugural cat show of the Brooklyn-Long Island Cat Club at the Hotel St. George Roof Garden. Each guest cat sat on a dais, with his or her personal history written on the seat. Here, Mrs. Silas H. Andrews, president of the Brooklyn-Long Island Cat Club, holds Boots during the inaugural cat show.

No More Salmon for Snooky

Soon after America entered World War II, it became apparent that voluntary conservation of goods would not be adequate, so numerous restrictions were put in place. On January 30, 1942, the Emergency Price Control Act granted the Office of Price Administration (OPA) the authority to set price limits and ration food and other commodities to discourage hoarding and ensure equal access to scarce resources.

Sugar was the first item to be rationed (and only available for purchase via government-issued food coupons), followed by coffee, meat, cheese, fats, canned fish, canned milk and other processed foods.

When the initial freeze on canned fish went into effect in 1943 (a freeze preceded rationing for canned fish), Tom Halton had only one can of salmon in reserve for Snooky. As he told a reporter for The New York Times, he feared that Snooky would resort to killing the sparrows and pigeons in City Hall Park if she did not approve of the fish substitutes.

War Ration Book WWII

Every American was entitled to a series of war ration books filled with stamps that, along with payment, could be used to buy restricted items. I have a feeling City Hall did not use any of their stamps to purchase canned salmon for Snooky.

Slippers, a cat who lived in Lawrence, Long Island, “read” the story and sent Snooky a can of soy substitute with a note stating that she too was saddened to hear that the Office of Price Administration had applied a freeze to salmon. “The dehydrated sawdust we are given now is singularly unpalatable – only fit for dogs, who have no sense of discrimination,” she wrote.

Snooky Goes AWOL

On October 31, 1944, Halloween night, Snooky ran away from City Hall after reportedly getting into a tiff with a black cat that had been trying to take her place. City Hall called in the police, who were instructed to leave no stone unturned in their search for the missing cat.

Tom also conducted his own search in places he knew Snooky might be expected to hide. For some reason she wasn’t wearing her collar and ID tag, but Tom held onto them with hopes that the prodigal cat would return to him.

New York State Building

After disappearing from City Hall in 1944, Snooky was last seen in front of the New York State Office Building at 80 Centre Street, a nine-story structure that housed all State offices in Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens.
When the State Building was built in 1929-30, it replaced the former factory of Andrew Dougherty, a famous manufacturer of playing-cards who invented many of the printing devices used to make the cards. Dougherty built his factory at 76-80 Centre Street in 1872 on the site of several two-story frame houses from the early 1800s. NYPL Digital Collections

A few days after Snooky’s disappearance, the black cat had the nerve to return to City Hall and try taking over her territory again. The cat actually made it as far as the lobby of City Hall, but Tom, who had just arrived for his shift, gave the interloper the boot.

“I bet someone stole Snooky and put this black cat in here,” he told the City Hall reporters.

Snooky Is Found at Oak and Roosevelt

Oak Street and Roosevelt Street

Police found Snooky at the intersection of Oak Street and Roosevelt Street in the Lower East Side (shown here in the 1930s), two of the many streets that were demapped in 1947 and 1950 to make way for the Alfred E. Smith Houses and the Chatham Green apartments. NYPL Digital Collections

Four weeks later, on November 25, Patrolman William Mahoney of the 4th Precinct Police Station at 9 Oak Street spotted Snooky near the station house at Oak and Roosevelt streets while driving his patrol car through the Lower East Side.

He triumphantly returned Snooky to Patrolman James Byrnes at City Hall, where the cat was welcomed back with a ceremony fit for a queen cat (in other words, a large can of salmon).

Even stodgy City Council President and Acting Mayor Augustus Newbold Morris welcomed the cat back, saying, “Glad to see you back, old boy.” (Snooky was a female cat.)

Gotham Court, Lower East Side

In 1850, Quaker philanthropist Silas Wood developed Gotham Court, a “model tenement” situated on the block bounded by Oak Street, Roosevelt Street, Cherry Street, New Bowery (now St. James Place), and Franklin Square. The complex comprised two rows of six, five-story tenements standing back to back. Gotham Court was notorious for overcrowding, filth, and crime. The housing complex was demolished in 1895 under the Tenement House Law and replaced by New Law tenements. This photo of Gotham Court at 38 Cherry Street was taken by Richard Hoe Lawrence around 1885.

Oak Street and Catherine Street, 1944

This view from Oak Street and Catherine Street, looking southeast toward the Brooklyn Bridge, was taken in 1944, the year Snooky was miraculously found among this maze of tenements. This entire area up to the bridge and the East River waterfront was cleared away to build Governor Alfred E. Smith Houses in the late 1940s.

Oak Street station house of the 4th Police Precinct

The old Oak Street station house of the 4th Police Precinct — the four-story brick building here — was among the last structures to be removed when the Lower East Side neighborhood where Snooky was found was demolished. This photo was taken around 1950.

In May 1944, six months after her disappearance act, Snooky celebrated her fifth anniversary at City Hall sporting a new collar and dining on her favorite, a rationed can of salmon. As the Tipton Daily Tribune (Indiana) reported on May 30, 1944: “When Snooky first arrived she was dirty, disdainful, and debonair. Today, she is dirty, disdainful, and debonair.”

Kitty Hall stowaway cat

Kitty Hall was discovered by passengers aboard a Pan-Am flight from Ireland to New York in 1946. She was taken to City Hall and sworn in as an American citizen of the feline persuasion.

In September 1945, Snooky went AWOL again, and Tom, now 67 years old, feared that someone had stolen the cat he had so adored for almost seven years. Snooky never did return, and a year later a new cat had taken her place at City Hall.

This new cat was presented to Tom on January 29, 1946, by Dorothy Mills, a stewardess for Pan-American World Airways. The cat, first named O’Clipper, had been discovered as a stowaway aboard a clipper flight from Shannon, County Limerick, Ireland, to LaGuardia Airport.

City Hall reporters renamed the reddish-brown tabby Kitty Council, and later, Kitty Hall. Tom Halton was happy to receive the new cat, and immediately took to feeding her and instructing her on her new duties at City Hall.

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