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Washington’s ‘Demon Cat’, and Other Tales of Out-Of-Place Felines

Every so often, a new roundup will appear that lists the most unique, or simply some of the strangest articles on Wikipedia. Usually, these are worth a few gems, or perhaps a hint or two for the aspiring Trivial Pursuit know-it-all (if anyone still plays that game, in an era of increasing internet indulgence and “Candy Crush” captivation).

Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey recently presented one of these series of Wiki articles that might be worth the read, ranging from “sexually active popes” to Thomas Jefferson Jackson See, an astronomer bearing the names of two U.S. Presidents, and famous for little more than that, apart from being a genuine jerk most of his life. However, one of the featured articles managed to arouse memories of amusement from times long ago, when in my youth I would pour through libraries looking for weird stories involving ghosts, mysteries, and monsters.

The story in question is one relating to what is known in the Nation’s Capital as the “Demon Cat”, though arguably, I would find it doubtful that anyone in Washington today is particularly mindful of this odd legend. The tale, as I recall it from childhood, goes something like this: late at night, often in the tunnels appearing beneath locations such as the Capital Building, security guards would occasionally tell of their encounters with a cat that had wandered into the building. Upon being discovered in one of these long, narrow hallways, the cat would begin to move toward the bemused security guard, and in doing so, would appear to steadily grow until the harmless house cat was now a tiger-sized monster, bounding toward the now frightened guard.

Here, as the creature would be seen leaping for the kill, it would vanish into thin air, sending the guard into fits of panic. Often, the appearance of the so-called “Demon Cat” was believed to occur in conjunction with deaths or other significant misfortunes, such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

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The supposed underpinnings of the legend are said to date back to the 1940s, when generally unqualified guards were hired for late night shifts who, to help offset the boredom of the long, late shifts, were prone to drunkenness. One incident (which, like the broader legend of the “Demon Cat”, may be apocryphal) tells that one of these drunken guards had been sleeping when a cat strolled up and licked his face. Upon awaking, from his position close to the ground the cat appeared enormous to the intoxicated guard, and thus a legend was born.

Interestingly, there have been other cases that involve misperceptions in size due to perspective which led to reports of large cats on the loose. In 1993, The Times of London produced an article describing a “lion hunt” that had ensued after a number of residents had reported seeing a large, fearsome cat on the prowl at night. Later, it was determined that the creature that had caused the fuss has simply been a large tomcat “with a liking for spongecake.” Indeed, the feline’s purported affinity for cake in this instance may be the most anomalous thread to the entire thing, although it wouldn’t be the last time a largish house cat lurking around would lead to panic over a lion on the loose.

Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, numerous similar observations of a “lion” seen around Nottingham had been reported, though little turned up in subsequent searches apart from a few odd-looking prints. Then another incident turned up last year around the vicinity of Disneyland Paris, where similar reports of a lioness or some other large cat were making rounds. Later, a prevailing theory had been that this animal, as in other cases, had simply been a house cat of the garden variety.

However, surveillance footage would later emerge that showed the purported animal, which certainly appeared to depict something larger than a house cat:

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Despite the footage, it was still the opinion of Eric Hansen, with the national agency for hunting and wild fauna, that the feline in the footage “was more likely a smaller and far less dangerous creature, maybe a lynx and or even just a large domestic cat.”

Such observations have long catered to the concept of the “alien big cat”, and despite the dubiousness of the name, the lore surrounding this phenomenon, unlike Washington’s Demon Cat, may bear some truth. Reports, and even photos and video of large cats in unlikely places do turn up, and with surprising frequency, despite the puzzling question as to their origin. It’s certainly not impossible that cougars, lynx, panthers, and other varieties of large cat may remain concealed even in less remote areas of the modern world.

Perhaps the observation of such “out-of-place animals” has lent itself to legends over the years as well, though the reality behind these creatures is far from being anything spectral… just don’t tell that to proponents of the “Demon Cat” lurking below Washington.

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Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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