A visitor (Joanna) asks:
I heard about a historical practice that could possibly be a hoax. I visited the Freakatorium
in NYC today, and they had on display a mummified cat that they claim was walled into "A New York City Building" to ensure its stability. Now, they assured me that although they had hoaxes in this museum, the cat thing was certainly real, although they were fuzzy on the dates and the location it was found in. I found some references to this practice in medieval times... However, I can't imagine this happening as late as the 1800's, when this practice supposedly took place in New York. Any thoughts on this?
I'm not an expert on this kind of folklore, but a little bit of research
seems to confirm that this practice of walling up cats in buildings did occur
during medieval times. Apparently the cat was thought to be a kind of good luck charm that would ward off evil spirits by being entombed in the building. As for something like this occurring in New York City during the 1800s, Edgar Allan Poe wrote a short story in 1842 called 'The Black Cat'
in which he describes a cat being walled up in a house. This might be where the folks at the Freakatorium got their idea. But otherwise I don't think that an awful lot of 19th-century New Yorkers were busy walling up cats (though, of course, there may have been one or two such individuals).