On January 8, 2008, New Hampshire held two elections. The first was the presidential primary. The second, in which more than 8,000 New Hampshire residents voted, decided the fate of arguably the most important non-human in the Granite State.
That non-human was Marty, Mount Washington Observatory‘s current mascot cat. The black, long-haired Maine coon beat out opponents Wilson and Sarah in a three-way race to decide which kitty from the Conway Area Humane Society would replace the recently retired mascot, Nin. Marty won in a runaway. (Nin, the famous protagonist of Eric Pinder’s book Cat in the Clouds, was 17 or 18 years old at the time. She went into retirement in Gorham, N.H., and passed away on July 14, 2009.)
Cats have been a near continuous presence at the summit observatory since its beginnings in the 1930s as a weather station. The first cats were mainly strays brought up to serve mouse-catching duty but also to offer some companionship to the observers, as the crew stayed for much longer shifts back then. (Today’s weather observers rotate out after a week.) Over the years, the summit cats have had far more company that in those early years, with TV crews, state parks employees, and visitors arriving via foot, Auto Road and Cog Railway. Following is a brief history in photos of the only full-time residents of the top of Mount Washington.
PHOTO 1. In the famous photo of the four recognized founders of the Mount Washington Observatory, circa 1932, the fifth founder is also visible, if nearly hidden (from left): Alex McKenzie, Bob Monahan, Joe Dodge, Sal Pagliuca, and in Pagliuca’s arms, Tickey, the first summit mascot. Originally named Sally, Tickey lived at AMC’s Galehead Hut before graduating to Mount Washington. Pagliuca rarely called the first mascot Tickey, preferring terms of endearment, such as Little Oomfa and Limpo-limpo. Pagliuca would toss Tickey into his sleeping bag at night for warmth. Photo courtesy of Ken McKenzie.
PHOTO 2. According to Alex McKenzie, Bob Monahan was in the habit of drinking a tall glass of water mixed with lime juice and sugar before starting down the mountain. Monahan felt it gave him a jolt of quick energy for the trip. One day, while Monahan was stirring his drink, Tickey heard the noise and came running to the kitchen. Observatory lore has it that Sal Pagliuca laughed and said, “tick tick,” mimicking the stirring of the glass, and the kitten turned toward him. From that point on, the kitten was called Tickey in honor of the only sound he ever seemed to respond to. (It’s worth noting that, of all the founders, Tickey was closest to Pagliuca, who gave the cat his name.) Photo courtesy of Ken McKenzie.
PHOTO 3. Tickey had free run of the observatory and seemed impervious—or oblivious—to the cold. Although the cat, pictured here atop the instrumentation box during a storm, may have been the first, he was far from the only mascot in those early days. Observatory logs circa 1932–34 record up to eight named mascots living at the summit. Photo courtesy of Ken McKenzie.
PHOTO 4. Many cats came and went in those years. There was Oomfa and her five kittens, who were born at the summit and liked to sleep on the dried fruit observers kept onhand for snacks. On February 12, 1934, a cat named Ammonuisance gave birth to Linki. Linki’s dad, Elmer, hid among the observatory’s stash of soap for two weeks after the event. One whole winter was devoted to Java, so named because his coat resembled coffee with cream.
And then there was Andy, pictured here with Tickey. Sadly, Andy would lead to Tickey’s demise. Andy showed up at the observatory unannounced one day in 1933. Tickey, who did not have a tail, took an interest in Andy’s and would pounce on it constantly. One day Andy had enough and swatted Tickey across the face. Shortly after, Tickey walked out the door and never came back. Photo courtesy of Ken McKenzie.
PHOTO 5. Summit cats were so common in the 1930s, observers had a hard time keeping the names straight. This picture of a young observatory cat, taken around 1935, might be Linki, although no one really knows. Archival pictures and log notes about observatory mascots taper off significantly during the 1940s and 1950s. But that changes in 1967, with the appearance of DFC. Photo courtesy of Ken McKenzie.
PHOTO 6. The golden age of summit mascots began in 1967, when Greg Gordon wrapped DFC, originally called Crazy Cat, in his parka for the ride up in the observatory’s snow machine (fittingly called a snowcat). DFC—or, in polite parlance, Darned Fool Cat—had come from a vet’s practice in Nashua. The story goes that, during a storm early in DFC’s stay at the observatory, she ran out into the wind and was immediately blown 8 feet into the air before disappearing into the fog. Everyone thought she was lost. But low and behold, that Darned Fool Cat was found: cold, wet, and angry on the other side of the building. This photo shows DFC in the middle of a litter of three around 1970. One of the kittens is Pushka, a character in his own right. Photo by Jon Lingel, courtesy of the Mount Washington Observatory.
PHOTO 7. Pushka, the first real celebrity of the mascots, was raised in the TV Building, across from the observatory. From 1954–2002, WMTW-TV 60 broadcast from the top of the mountain, from a tiny facility connected to the observatory via a breezeway. The TV crew and engineers—who lived in the TV Building, much like the observers—featured Pushka in one of their bulletins and asked viewers for name suggestions. They received 900 replies. The family who suggested Pushka, which means “little cat” in Inuit, was brought up to the summit via snowcat to meet the crew and the kitten.
Pushka lived for 15 years on the summit and was a fierce climber and hunter. When he died in 1985, he was buried deep in the summit rocks and memorialized with a ceremony. Photo by Ed Racz Jr.
PHOTO 8. In 1973, observer John Howe brought up a black, six-toed kitten that had been born at Howe’s farm in Jackson. Blackberry, pictured with observer Al Oxton, found it difficult to adapt to the extreme weather but eventually settled down, thanks to Pushka. A few months after arriving, Blackberry gave birth to a litter of five kittens sired by Pushka: Strawberry, Blueberry, Raspberry, Boysenberry, and Beriberi—some of whom had five toes. Beriberi died soon after birth, and three of the kittens were settled in the valley, but Strawberry stayed. Photo by Ed Racz Jr.
PHOTO 9. Pushka and Blackberry’s daughter Strawberry was an affectionate, playful cat who loved to ride on observers’ shoulders and to bathe in the sun. She had long fur and a bushy tail, like that of a fox. Sadly, Strawberry came to a tragic end. The observatory had two enormous water tanks in the basement, filled in the fall to last through winter. One day, Strawberry failed to come for dinner. She was found later that day, having perished after falling into one of the tanks. Photo by Ed Racz Jr.
PHOTO 10. Mount Washington Observatory’s kitty cult reached a new level with the arrival of Inga, who was featured on posters and T-shirts. The magazine Cat Fancy even wrote a story about her. Inga had the distinction of being the only summit cat to learn how to operate the thumb latch on the observatory front door, letting herself out. Much to the chagrin of observers, she never learned how to close the door behind her. Photo courtesy of Mount Washington Observatory.
PHOTO 11. Inga received the lion’s share of attention, but a shy tabby named Jasper lived with Inga for ten years. He ran in terror from children and visitors, but he enjoyed having observers hold him upside down. He also loved asparagus and was an expert hunter. One story tells of an evening when Jasper went on a spree depositing dead mice, one after another, that he sorted by size on the observation deck. At the time, observers said he was stacking the mice like cord wood. Photo courtesy of Mount Washington Observatory.
PHOTO 12. Only a few photos exist of Jasper, and fewer still of Jasper with Inga’s replacement, a white cat with black patches named Nin. This rare photo of both cats captures their relationship fairly well. After Inga’s death, Jasper had the observatory to himself for a couple years, so the arrival of Nin was not met with enthusiasm. Adding insult to injury, Nin had a habit of stealing food out of Jasper’s bowl. Soon, though, Nin’s popularity would sky rocket. Photos courtesy of Eric Pinder.
PHOTO 13. When Nin’s retirement was announced in 2007, a crew from Good Morning America drove to the summit and featured him in a broadcast. Nin was hyperfriendly and had a way of extracting treats from summit visitors—so much so that observers eventually put him on a diet. Nin fans also brought toys and donations to contribute to his care. His image was sold on mugs and postcards. Nin’s popularity only increased after his retirement, when Eric Pinder, a weather observer, wrote the book Cat in the Clouds. Photo courtesy of Mount Washington Observatory.
PHOTO 14. Pinder shares this anecdote of his friendship with Nin: “One morning I was live on the air, doing one of our morning radio forecasts for WMWV in North Conway. They always had us do a longer, chattier forecast than some of the other stations, with some banter and a lot of discussion of highs, lows, and the weather map. Halfway through, when I was in mid-sentence, Nin suddenly jumped up on the desk and sprawled out across all of my notes and maps. Luckily it was the last radio show of the morning, so I’d memorized most of the numbers by that point and was able to wing it for the last minute. But I was momentarily flustered and explained it by joking on air that the weather was now partly to mostly obscured by cat.” Photo courtesy of Mount Washington Observatory.
PHOTO 15. The current summit mascot and the winner of that 2008 election is Marty. As a kitten, Marty had lost his home in a fire and had been living in a shelter in Conway when the votes were tallied. From early on, he was a bundle of energy, exploring any open drawer or cupboard. In the picture above, he appears to be guarding his toy and snack drawer in the weather room. Photo courtesy of Mark Truman.
PHOTO 16. When the crew of Animal Planet’s Cats 101 visited the summit in 2008 to shoot footage of Marty for an episode on Maine coons, everyone remarked on how easy he was to work with—a true star who hadn’t let fame go to his head. More Marty trivia: He had ten teeth surgically removed in 2009 to address a genetic infection but is still an expert mouse chaser. Photo courtesy of Dan Szczesny.
PHOTO 17. One Marty adventure began when observer Brian Clark decided to hike down to AMC’s Lakes of the Clouds Hut for dinner one evening. Marty was waiting at the observatory door. Try as he might, Clark couldn’t convince Marty to stay at the summit, so the two hiked down the roughly mile-long trek. At the hut, a tired Marty was put up in the attic to rest with some food and water. But sure enough, that same night, Marty followed Brian back up, although Brian did carry the tuckered-out feline part of the way. Marty is older these days, enjoying his role as the senior member of the observatory staff and still its only full-time resident. Here he is in the lap of observer Adam Gill. Photo courtesy of Mike Carmon.