Timmie the Cat

Timmie the cat, with his canary friend, Caruso. Harris & Ewing, ca. 1929. Library of Congress LC-H25- 155282-BK [P&P]
Timmie the cat, with his canary friend, Caruso. Harris & Ewing, ca. 1929. Library of Congress LC-H25- 155282-BK [P&P]
Timmie was, by all accounts, and extraordinary cat. For one thing, he loved birds. Most cats would rather eat them than befriend them. But Timmie would let them perch on his head or his back. Once he had a baby robin as a companion, but it had to be released into the wild. His owner bought him a pair of ducklings. Timmie loved those ducks, and was devastated when they had to be sent away because they were too big to keep in a city apartment. They were replaced by a baby chick. Timmie’s most famous avian pal was Caruso, a canary who belonged to Calvin Coolidge.  Timmie was so enamored of Caruso that Coolidge gave him to the cat for keeps.

One might ask, how does a cat achieve such a level of fame that not only are his antics reported in a national newspaper, but a U.S. President gives him a pet of his own? It was all because Timmie’s owner was Bascom N. Timmons, a newspaperman, advisor to Coolidge, and in 1932, president of the National Press Club (NPC). Timmons was a native of Texas whose career spanned several decades and dozens of newspapers. He wrote a biography of John Nance Garner, who was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s vice president for his first two terms. When FDR dropped Garner from the ticket in 1940, Bascom Timmons, in protest, put his name forward as a nominee for vice president at the Democratic National Convention.

In 1927, Timmie was just a kitten who was found wandering in or around the NPC building. Fortunately, the person who found him was Timmons, a known lover of animals. Before long, Timmie was ensconced in Timmons’ office, where he cleared off a bookshelf to give Timmie a place to sleep. As time went on, Timmons’ wife Ethel turned that bookshelf into a “Cat Pullman,” with curtains, a mattress, blanket, and a pillow. Timmie was often seen accompanying Timmons as he conducted his business around D.C. He was known to enjoy automobile rides and even the occasional train.

Timmie became so famous, that his portrait was painted by Howard Chandler Christy in 1935. He would have been even more famous, if his owner had accepted any of the multiple offers from Hollywood for his cat to act in the movies. In 1936, Timmie the cat died of an unspecified ailment. He was nearly nine years old. He was buried in the Timmons plot at Aspin Hill Memorial Park.

Mr. White

Not long after Timmie died, Mr. Timmons and his wife, Ethel, adopted another kitten of the streets. This one was white with one blue eye and one brown eye. In 1939, Mr. White fell ill with a severe infection that none of the veterinarians who examined him could cure. Timmons called in a favor from a friend and political appointee, who arranged for the cat to be treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Somehow, the word got out about this unusual treatment and Mr. White became almost as famous as his predecessor, Timmie. He also managed to survive his illness (after a few surgeries) and lived to nineteen years of age, dying in 1955.

Bascom N. Timmons

Timmons monument, Aspin Hill Memorial Park.
Timmons monument, Aspin Hill Memorial Park.

I wouldn’t have known about Timmie’s story, or Mr. White’s, if it weren’t for the unusual monument that Bascom N. Timmons erected on his plot in Aspin Hill Memorial Park. It’s about six feet tall with life-size figures of two cats on either side. It’s inscribed simply “TIMMONS.” Over the years, Timmons was said to have buried over 100 pets and strays there, most of them cats. I’m sure there were several birds, especially the ones that Timmie had enjoyed as companions.

There’s even an opossum buried there, the victim of foul play. In 1950, Mr. and Mrs. Timmons “adopted” an opossum who showed up at their porch. They named him Piggy, fed him, and set up a box for him to stay in when he visited. Piggy must have assumed that all humans were as friendly as the Timmons couple, and decided to follow one of their neighbors home, a congressman from Illinois. When Piggy settled himself in on the porch, the congressman called the police. In the meantime, a boy took it upon himself to whack Piggy in the head with a shovel.

When a policeman arrived on the scene, he took the injured opossum to an animal welfare organization called The Tailwaggers Club.  They advised the officer to put Piggy out of his misery, so he did. For some reason that I can’t fathom, the policeman felt it was okay to give Piggy’s body to a man who wanted to make possum stew out of him. When Mr. Timmons got wind of what had befallen his beloved Piggy, he called the police himself. An officer was dispatched to the man’s house and he recovered Piggy’s body from the freezer. Piggy was returned to Timmons, who made arrangements for him to be buried at the Aspin Hill Memorial Park.

As sad as the story of Piggy the Opossum may be, it fills me with admiration for Mr. Timmons’ love of all kinds of animals, and also his sense of justice. Bascom N. Timmons died in 1987 at the age of ninety-seven. He is buried at Llano Cemetery in Amarillo, Texas.

Inscription:

TIMMONS

Location:

Aspin Hill Memorial Park
N 39° 04.758 W 077° 04.614

Sources consulted

“Timmie, Famous Feline, to Lose Bird Friend of Several Weeks,” The Washington Post, July 9, 1931. p. 20.

“‘Timmie,’ Ex-Alley Mouser, in Oils,” The Evening Star, August 16, 1935. p. A-9.

Thompson, Sydney. “Tooth-and-Claw Aspects of the New Deal Among the Most Popular Features,” The Evening Star, November 17, 1935. p. F-3.

“‘Timmie’ Goes to Cat Heaven As Distinguished Pals Mourn,” The Washington Post, June 16, 1936. p. 15.

“Johns Hopkins Surgeons Treat Sick Alley Cat,” The Washington Post, February 22, 1939. p. 21.

“‘Possum Who Liked Legislator Not Wisely But Too Well Dead,” The Washington Post, March 18 1950. p. 1.

“Mr. White Gives Up Last Life At The Decrepit Age of 19,” The Baltimore Sun, March 24, 1955. p. 36.

Pearson, Richard. Journalist and Biographer Bascom Timmons, 97, Dies,” The Washington Post, June 8, 1987. p. D6.

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