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New Museum Opens In Mountains, Celebrating And Saving Cats In The Process

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Davin Eldridge
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The Egyptian goddess Bastet, or Bast, was worshipped as long ago as 2890 BCE. This statute, along with real Egyptian relics of antiquity, can be found at Catman's Museum of the House Cat in south Jackson County.

Calling all cat lovers: Western North Carolina is home to the newly-opened American Museum of the House Cat. 

Nestled alongside U.S. Highway 441, in the quiet Jackson County community of Savannah, stands the brand-new American Museum of the House Cat. The museum opened on April 1, and, no joke… It really is a celebration of the domesticated cat.

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Credit Davin Eldridge
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The museum opened on April 1 of 2017.

“I’ve been buying, hoping to have a museum. I had a dream, I wanted to have a shelter, I worked hard to make that dream come true,” that’s museum owner and operator Dr. Harold Sims, a.k.a. “Catman2”.  “I’ve always loved museums as a kid, I always wanted to go to the museum when I went to New York.”

The museum is more than thirty years in the making—a private collection which began as a way to kill time at yard sales.  It’s morphed into a fascination pursued mostly these days with the help of eBay.  All the items here come with a rich history—which the 82-year-old Catman loves to share…

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Credit Davin Eldridge
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Dr. Harold Sims, a.k.a. "Catman", shows off one of his Andy Warhol cat paintings.

“All of these toys on the lower shelves here were Japanese, or Chinese, or German in some cases," he said. "This one was made in Tibet of paper machete. German you can always tell they have a more sinister look to them, I don’t know why. Japanese were more dainty. The ones that were the really good ones are on the top shelf, they were made in France between 1890 and 1910.” 

There are more than 5,000 cat-like items on display here at the museum. A lone tabby sits perched, tall as a toddler, greeting each visitor as they enter. It’s carved from the wood of some long-gone forest in Borneo, at a time when the island was a British colony. Around the corner a troupe of tomcats lies in wait, dancing and fiddling before a portrait of the Alps. No bigger than a thimble, each was sculpted from bronze in Austria over a century ago. Turn the corner again and you’ll see ancient kitty talismans from Egypt, where cats were actually worshipped as gods. And on a nearby wall, paintings of pussycats by Andy Warhol can be found, amid other antique pictures, tapestries, and advertisements.

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Credit Davin Eldridge
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Catman shows off the first ever picture that helped to initiate his lifelong obsession with cats.

All the proceeds from admissions to the museum go toward funding a cat shelter up the road the Catman founded in 2002. So far he’s just barely broke even, charging five dollars a head. Last month, a total of 180 people visited.

“We have a hard time raising money. This is a very poor part of the county. People here are from farming backgrounds for the most part. They don’t have a lot of money to give.”

Since opening, Catman is proud of the work his shelter has done, adopting more than 3,000 cats to date.

“We’ve reduced the number of stray cats the number of kittens that nobody wants down to almost none," explained Catman. "We’re making big progress. We’ve reduced the number of cats killed here by hundreds of cats a few years ago to no cats this year so far.”

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Credit Davin Eldridge
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This set of rare cat figurines is from early twentieth century Vienna, Austria. Catman considers it one of his collection's rarest pieces.

He hopes the museum will not only help sustain the work of his shelter, but that it will spread the word about it, and vice-versa.

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Credit Davin Eldridge
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“People have come here from New Zealand, from Sweden, from Norway. I feel good about it. This is one of two museums in the country.”

Has anyone offered to buy any of this though?

“I haven’t had anyone offer to buy anything, but then, I don’t want to sell anything. I want to preserve this, because I got this collection together over thirty years of my life. My hope is, if I can get the thing in writing that if this is making money and can support the shelter, which is for sale, if somebody can buy the shelter, and run it the way I want it to be run.”

[What is it about the cat that you love so much?]

“Because the cat’s independent. It doesn’t need anybody. Any other animal in the world, including ourselves, couldn’t survive by itself. If we were all wiped out tomorrow. The cat would be the one thing that survives. The dog can’t live alone. It has to have something to live up to—an alpha dog. There are no alpha cats. Every cat’s his own alpha. They have faith in themselves—I have faith in myself.”

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Credit Davin Eldridge
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It’s Catman’s hope that his cat shelter and museum—indeed his life’s work— can live on and survive on their own, just like the modern housecat he adores so much.  

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Meow, have a good day!

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