Monday, October 31, 2016

Canal Cat - Halloween Series 2016


   With thousands of tons of grain moving along the Erie Canal each season as cargo destined to far reaches of the world, canal boats had plenty of feline friends.  Much like barn cats, barges welcomed the rodent hunters aboard to avoid rats and mice taking over their holds.  Less companions and more working partnership, these cats ate their fill of furry little intruders. 


    One such cat however, made close friends with a canal boat captain’s daughter, Miss Alice Loman.  About seven years of age, Alice and her friend, Mr. Whizzlers, could be witnessed on deck as the mother did laundry or cooked meals.  Alice had chores too, such as wringing the laundry, sweeping, helping cook and also feeding the horses…with Mr. Whizzlers always in tow.   

   

   The cat did its dutiful job, keeping the barge free from pests.  Even the old captain didn’t seem to mind the cat underfoot as he moved about the cabin.    On a foggy morning just outside of Buffalo, the captain heard a yowling and scratch at the aft window.  The cats’ cries unnerved the gruff captain and as he walked out on deck, he saw the cat beside Alice’s shawl, but there was no sign of Alice anywhere on the boat!    The barge was stopped, searched up and down twice, three times over and despite the efforts of the captain and his wife, poor Alice was not found.  The crew and other canawlers canvassed the canal, its banks, the berm and towpath, the water…yet…yet…nothing.  No trace was found.
    Thrown into murky sadness, the parents walked away from their boat – never to return to the canal – and leaving Mr. Whizzlers behind as well.    Locals reported for weeks after this tragedy, seeing the cat walking along the bank of the canal, describing it as a melancholy creature that cried and stared at the water constantly.  With each passing day, then week, the cat ever gaunter, slowly starving itself to death while looking for Alice.  Eventually a local merchant, so touched by the feline’s dedication tried to bring Mr. Whizzlers inside his shop.  As he stooped to pick up the boney cat, he saw a shine in its eyes and his hands passed through its thin body.       Stunned, the merchant lurched back, and in the eyes of the cat he saw fire and the shadow of a little girl.  Horrified he ran back inside.  Mr. Whizzlers ran off to the west along the towpath, but that was not the last he would be seen.  For decades locals and canawlers alike have reported the cat along the grand Erie Canal, and at times it finds its way upon boats traveling east… the glow of fire remains in its eyes……







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