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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.)
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.”
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.