Caesar, the Ithaca Kitty, a Tompkins County Heritage Ambassador

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Caesar Grimalkin, a gray tiger cat with seven toes on each white front paw, lived with Celia and William Hazlitt Smith and their two-year-old daughter at 116 Oak Ave. in Ithaca, NY. William was an attorney and Celia was skilled in sewing and toy design. One evening in 1890, Celia pointed to where Caesar sat and said, "You know, I could make him, in three pieces." She set to work with scissors and muslin, and soon had a cat form. Her sister-in-law Charity Smith, an artist, painted the blank muslin.

Caesar became known as the “Ithaca Kitty” and was very popular across the United States. He was sold in major department stores and was at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Even though Caesar had seven toes on each of his front paws, they thought that his extra toes didn’t look normal enough and did not add them to the stuffed kitty. Last year The History Center brought Caesar back and gave him all his toes since we are a community that celebrates diversity. He is again a polydactyl cat!

Caesar, an urban cat, has already called attention to the City of Ithaca. He has now also become an ambassador for celebrating our county’s rural heritage. Caesar will be at the November 18 Celebrating Rural Heritage event and will continue to visit rural sites over the course of this next year and will certainly plan to attend next Fall’s celebrating rural heritage weekend.

You can follow his adventures through social media using #IthacaKittyvisits. If you spot Caesar out and about, please take a picture of him to post (and be sure to use the hashtag). Caesar likes to be photographed in the City of Ithaca and in all of Tompkins County’s towns, hamlets, and villages.

Rod Howe, Executive Director, The History Center in Tompkins County