Throwback Thursday: The Climbing Cat of Deer Island Light

The story of a forgotten feline lighthouse keeper.

deer island light

Deer Island Light photos then and now via Wikimedia Commons

Before the unromantic technology of automatic lights for lighthouses came about, many a lighthouse keeper took up residence in Boston Harbor.

One lighthouse keeper in particular achieved minor fame in the 1930s for his cat after a visit from historian and Boston harbor islands writer Edward Rowe Snow. The keeper, named Tom Small, worked in Deer Island Light (before it was a skinny, brown, peculiar-looking structure) and lived there with his wife and cat. Snow marveled at Small’s cat, which exhibited talents in climbing and fishing.

climbing cat deer island light

Tom Small’s wife and the climbing cat. Photo by Edward Rowe Snow/ Courtesy of Dorothy Snow Bicknell

Nicknamed “the climbing cat,” the feline spent its days climbing the rungs of ladders on the lighthouse, hanging out on different levels of the house, and usually keeping an eye out for fish. When it would reach the lowest level of the ladder, the cat would sit to examine the waters below. Upon spotting a fish, the cat went from poised to preying: leaping into the harbor to fetch it. It would spend a few moments underwater and then resurface, paddling back to the ladder with the fish in its mouth. Snow described how the cat would return to the lighthouse, climb back up the ladder with the fish, and find a spot to prepare and eat the fish undisturbed.

The endearing climbing cat story might just be 1930s version of a cat video—perhaps even proof that cats have been sources of entertainment for humans with nothing better to do for decades. While there are still a lone few lighthouse keepers in the harbor today, there’s no word on if any cats in residence are keeping them company.