During one of my many visits to Aspin Hill Memorial Park, I couldn’t help noticing Napoleon the Weather Prophet’s gravestone, especially when the afternoon sun gave it an orange cast. It stood out among mostly gray markers which surrounded it. When I read the inscription, I felt I simply had to investigate this cat.
In 1930, The Baltimore Sun proclaimed a white Persian cat living on St. Paul Street “a feline barometer.” Owned by Mrs. Fanny de Shields, her cat Napoleon would forecast rain in a very particular way. Usually, he napped lying on his side. Whenever he changed positions and slept on his stomach with his front paws on either side of his head, rain was sure to follow within 24 hours. Sometimes his prognostications were contrary to those of the U.S. Weather Bureau, but it was Napoleon’s predictions that would turn out to be true.
Napoleon rose to fame because he correctly predicted the end of a long and troublesome drought in Baltimore during the summer of 1930. After weeks of no rain, Mrs. de Shields noticed her cat had assumed the position that signified imminent rainfall. She telephoned The Sun to deliver the happy news. The reporter who took her call must have thought she was nuts. When it rained the next day, despite predictions to the contrary, Mrs. de Shields’ cat earned the epithet, “Napoleon the Weather Prophet.” For the next six years, Mrs. de Shields fielded telephone calls from farmers and people planning outdoor events wanting to know in what position Napoleon was sleeping.
When Napoleon died in 1936, at the age of nineteen, the Sun honored him with an obituary longer and more descriptive than most humans get. There was even a list of survivors, of sorts. “…as far as they knew, Nappy always had been a bachelor, and they didn’t think there were any surviving members of his family, although they couldn’t be sure.” He was buried at Aspin Hill Cemetery for Pet Animals after a short ceremony, and his grave marked with the stone pictured above.
Inscription: NAPOLEON THE WEATHER PROPHET OF BALTIMORE 1917 - 1936 Location: Aspin Hill Memorial Park N 39° 04.748 W 077° 04.631
“Cat Predicts Rain Is Due In City Some Time Today.” The Baltimore Sun, Aug 11, 1930, p. 18.
“Napoleon, The Weather Cat, Has Forecast Last Storm.” The Baltimore Sun, May 18, 1936, p. 18.