Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday Photo: Spirit Cat

William Chessman built the Original Governor’s Mansion in Helena as a family home in 1887.  From 1913 to 1959, it served as the home of Montana’s governors.  By 1959, however, the mansion’s elegance had faded. Dark and shuttered, the old mansion sat quiet and empty. For several years during the 1960s, before it became a house museum, the city hired a caretaker who lived at the mansion. She was surprised at the number of visitors who rang the doorbell. She would often answer the door to find children of former governors, all grown up, standing on the porch. She always invited them in, let them poke around in the unused rooms, and listened with delight to their stories about growing up in the state’s executive residence. One story in particular was common among many of these former residents. It was about a little cat that roamed the mansion’s hallways. It was a friendly little kitty, and it always came to the children, begging for attention. It would come bounding down the hallway, and purring, rub against the children’s legs. Time and again, the lucky child who had the cat’s attention would bend down to scoop it up. But just as the child’s hands closed over its little body, the ghost cat would disappear. Several generations of tour guides have spent time alone in the mansion in the last thirty years. Today, they sometimes find shades pulled up when they were left down. Small things might be out of place. A picture, for example, might be turned to the wall. Or a closet door that is always kept shut might be discovered wide open. But no one has seen the cat. Evidence that a cat once lived in the mansion would help substantiate the children’s story, but how could one prove such a thing? An incredible find in the Montana Historical Society Archives offers just such proof. It shows the Chessman family in the 1890s on their front lawn. A professional photographer is taking a portrait of the family’s sleek black cat.

Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives

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