According to Samuel Holliday, director of scholarships for the US Capitol Historical Society, at that time there were many people to see a mystery cat in the vicinity of the building. During that first year of the Civil War, Union soldiers they stayed in the House and Senate rooms in anticipation of a Confederate attack, and later that year the building was converted into a temporary hospital for troops wounded in combat.
(Related: What do cats think of us? you may be surprised).
It is highly likely that cats also lived in the Capitol during the Civil War era. Back then, it was common to keep cats to catch rats, which would have been plentiful due to the 20 high-capacity ovens in the basement of the building, which produced 10,000 rations a day to feed the soldiers.
Another source of the legend could have been the Capitol Police officers who patrolled the building at night. Holliday says his duties at the time included catching stray animals on Capitol Hill grounds. “For example,” he says, “in 1904 the corps had to lasso a stray horse and in 1910 it captured 31 dogs.” The Capitol Guide, Steve Livengood, He says that a guard who had too much to drink may have started (and spread) the story in an attempt to get a day off.
Whatever the origin of the legend, it only grew over the years. In 1935, a Capitol policeman said to the Washington Post that he had fired his pistol at a large black cat with “the generous proportions of Mae West and the arrangement of bela lugosiBy then, believers thought the cat was a lighthouse-eyed tabby, saying it could also be found in the White House.
The demonic cat today
The Architect of the Capitol, the federal institution that maintains and preserves the building, attributes the footprints to the rat-slayer cats that once roamed the building, but those who subscribe to the Demon Cat myth disagree. They say the tracks only appeared after the rotunda was about to be destroyed by an explosion in 1898, an explosion they attribute to the evil cat, although the official record says a gas explosion was to blame. These believers also claim that the initials DC etched into the same soil represent the Demon Cat.
Although the footprints and initials have been preserved inside the Capitol building for posterity, Livengood told Atlas Obscura in 2018 that there have been no Demon Cat sightings in recent years.
Not the case with the infamous Capitol Hill rats: In early 2022, a rodent infestation was reported at the nearby United States House of Representatives Child Care Center. And brown rats have made a comeback in the District, according to the Washington Post, with 13,300 complaints during fiscal year 2022. Maybe it’s time the Demon Cat made a comeback…all in the name of control. Of pests.