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Working Felines: Hotel Cats 3
The Bigelow Cats of Stonehurst Manor
North Conway, New Hampshire
Stonehurst Manor is a turn-of-the-century Victorian mansion located on 33 private acres just north of North Conway, New Hampshire in the United States. It was built as the summer residence of carpet magnate Erastus Bigelow, whose company Bigelow Carpets was at one time the largest carpet-manufacturing firm in the world. A full history of the Manor can be found at the hotel's website. Nowadays Stonehurst is a luxury hotel and restaurant and prides itself on being pet-friendly, with rooms available for people travelling with their pets. And for more than 30 years there was a resident cat at the Manor.
'Mrs Bigelow' arrives
During a restoration project a third-floor room was found to have, hidden under layers of newer wallpaper and paint, some old wallpaper patterned with white cats frolicking. The Bigelow family is not known to have had any cats, so perhaps the room was at some time someone's nursery. In any case, the modern history of white cats at Stonehurst Manor began in 1978 when, arriving one morning while restoration work was being carried out, the owners found a small white cat waiting at the front door. She seemed to have a purpose in mind and when they opened the door to greet her, she went straight in. Sick, thin and in dire need of food and care, the cat seemed to know she had come to the right place. She had found her home and was named Mrs Bigelow. The animal lovers at the Manor cared for and pampered her, she received the medical attention she needed, and before long she had taken her place as the 'grande dame' of the house.
The first Mr Bigelow
Mrs Bigelow lived at the manor for almost 11 years, passing away of old age early in 1989. Her mysterious arrival at the hotel meant that no one knew her real age or history. It turned out, though, that she was unknowingly to become the first of a feline legacy at Stonehurst. In autumn 1989, nearly a year after the passing of Bigelow the First, the owner again arrived for work early one morning to find another white cat was sitting right outside the Manor's front door he could hardly believe what he was seeing! This cat, too, was sickly, hungry and in need of attention which he soon received to regain his health. He became, of course, Mr Bigelow! His resemblance to his predecessor was uncanny, even down to a nick out of his right ear.
Mr Bigelow was well known for mysteriously appearing in guest rooms and making himself right at home on the guests' beds. His fame spread far and wide; such was his popularity that even people staying at other hotels in the area would drive up to Stonehurst to meet him while guests staying at the Manor would treat him to shrimp cocktails! Mr Bigelow II enjoyed a great lifestyle until he developed a heart condition and died in 2001.
Mrs Bigelow III
After waiting nearly two years for another white cat to show up, the staff at the Manor began to think of other options. But then, in summer 2003, soon after the opening of the Conway Area Humane Society, an advertisement appeared in the local paper seeking the perfect home for a pure white cat the first cat to be rescued by the newly opened shelter. Skittish and rather skinny, she was friendly but not exactly the gracious host that Stonehurst had envisaged. That was soon to change, though! Thinking that maybe the cat had been on her way to the Manor as a stray when animal control found her and took her to the shelter, the Manor adopted her. As the third cat to bear the Bigelow name, she became Mrs Bigelow III.
She quickly made herself at home, and before long it seemed as though she'd been there for years. She turned out to be as friendly and outgoing as any of her predecessors, and was almost unrecognisable as the skittish, shy and scraggy cat that had been rescued by the Humane Society. She spent many hours by the fire, or making herself at home in any lap that happened to become available. She also became quite a connoisseur of speciality cat foods, which she liked to be mixed with just a bit of warm water to make delicious gravy. But eventually the inevitable old age caught up with her and she died not long after Thanksgiving in 2006.
The latest Bigelow
The story of the most recent resident feline began shortly before Christmas of 2006, on a day that will long be remembered. It was a busy day at the Manor, with the holidays soon approaching, and everyone was still mourning Mrs Bigelow III. Staff had reported catching a glimpse of her in corners or hallways, but the idea was brushed off as simply 'thinking they saw her because she had always been there'; in fact, her ashes had just been returned to the Manor that same day. Late that morning, office manager Leona was freshening up in the ladies' room when she heard a growl and realised she was not alone. When she turned around to see where the growl had come from, she saw an enormous white cat! She was shocked, and hastened to get the owners to show them. It took a while, but finally they were able to get the cat out of the ladies' room and bring him into the lounge to have a better look at him. He was frightened and hid by the fireplace but, although it took much of the day, eventually he was coaxed into the office to have some food and to show Mr Bigelow IV that he had come to a good home.
A few days later there was a brief, anonymous phone call from Mr Bigelow's previous owner; he said only that the cat was a two-year-old male with a wonderful appetite, before ringing off. Mr Bigelow spent much of the next several weeks under one of the desks at the front office, while word spread quickly that the Manor had a new cat. Everyone wanted to meet him; but he was not yet ready to make his 'grand entrance'. With a great deal of patience, love and kindness, however, he was helped to make his first official public appearance early in 2007. Very much part of the Manor staff, Mr. Bigelow could be found on almost any day sitting like a grand gentleman in one of the lobby chairs, greeting guests as they walked by. He was the youngest of the cats the Manor had had, but made himself at home and everyone was looking forward to sharing Stonehurst with him for a long time to come.
The cat bows out
It turned out, however, that Mr Bigelow IV wasn't very happy at the hotel and hadn't settled very well after all. He therefore left to live with one of the office staff, and in late 2014 was reported to be contentedly settled with a loving family, 'in an environment that better suits his personality'. It appears that, regrettably, his departure marks the end of the tradition of cats at Stonehurst Manor.
In the Manor's patio dining room is a 'memorial wishing well' dedicated to the memory of Mr Bigelow (the human). People throw in coins and small bills and some 1000 dollars annually is collected and donated to the Rozzie May Animal Alliance, which is a local organisation dedicated to providing low-cost spay and neuter services to help in curbing the overpopulation of animals in the area. In addition, on the first Sunday of March each year there is held a 'Bountiful Benefit Brunch and Auction', started in 2002 as a fundraising event for the Conway Humane Society, which has benefited to the tune of some 40,000 dollars over the years; more recently the Animal Alliance mentioned above has been the beneficiary. Local businesses and individuals contribute items that are sold in both a silent and a live auction, presided over by a local auctioneer. The Manor provides a fine brunch and a wine-tasting, while the staff volunteer their time to run the brunch. The event has been sold out every year.
Information and images courtesy of the Stonehurst Manor website.
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Our featured feline at the head of the page is Socks, pictured in 2003 surveying his 'estate' in the early morning sunshine. Affectionately known as Soxy, he blossomed from a thin and hungry stray into a substantial and handsome cat who loved life and company, and his gentle ways endeared him to many friends. He is now no longer with us, but you can read more from his human companion here.
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