One fateful day in 1952, the 6th grade classroom of Elysian Elementary School in California received an unexpected visitor. A thin, gray tabby cat waltzed into the classroom and made himself right at home. At first, the teacher of that classroom was not certain about whether she should encourage the students to interact with the stray cat. However, after observing it’s thin frame, she decided it would be okay if the children gave it a little milk. The cat was more than happy to accept the milk and even dug into the children’s lunches while they were out at recess. At the end of the day, the cat disappeared and everyone figured that they would never see him again.
The next morning, the cat arrived just as the children were making their way into the classrooms. This would be the cat’s routine for the next 16 years; the cat would show up at the beginning of the school day, spend all day with the students, and leave at the end of the school day. During holiday breaks and summer vacation, the cat would be nowhere to be found, but would show up again the day school would resume. The students decided to name the cat “Room 8” after the classroom he first showed up in.
Students Loved Room 8
It wasn’t long after Room 8’s arrival that he became the official mascot of Elysian Elementary School. He would sleep on students’ desks, under the desks, roam the halls, go with the children to lunch (where they often fed him portions of their lunch), and drink from faucets. The once thin kitty eventually reached 17 pounds!
Every year, one lucky 6th grader was chosen by the 6th grade teacher and the school principal to be the official “Cat Feeder.” The student who received this highly coveted position would be allowed into the teacher’s lounge to feed Room 8 his lunch. The Cat Feeder would also be allowed to hold Room 8 during the annual 6th grade photo.
Elysian Elementary school had one rule that was to be above all others; the students called this THE RULE. THE RULE was simply “don’t bother the cat.” Some students found themselves aggravated by THE RULE because Room 8 was prone to doing things like sleeping on a student’s homework. If Room 8 became too distracting in a classroom, there were appointed “Cat Removers” who would be allowed to relocate Room 8 to another part of the building.
Room 8 Moves Beyond the Classroom
Room 8 was so popular among the students of Elysian Elementary and the surrounding community that he was a bit of a celebrity. His fame grew throughout Los Angeles and beyond! Soon the principal, Beverly Mason, would be taking Room 8 to local cat shows and other appearances. Room 8’s publicity included:
- A 3 page spread in Look Magazine in 1962
- A piece in Time Magazine
- A piece in the Weekly Reader
- An appearance on Art Linkletter’s TV show House Party
- An appearance in the documentary “Big Cats, Little Cats”
- His own biography titled A Cat Called Room 8 by Virginia Finley and Beverly Mason. This was released in 1966, had 6 printings, and was sold to the students for $2.50 per copy.
People were so moved by Room 8 and his story that Room 8 began to receive fan mail from all over the world. Normally he received about 30 pieces of fan mail per day, but there was a time when that number was closer to 100 pieces of fan mail per day. Throughout his 16 years with the school, he received over 10,000 letters from fans. Students from the 5th and 6th grade were chosen to be “Cat Secretaries” and would respond to each fan letter, signing it with a rubber paw print stamp. Most of the money from Room 8’s appearances and biography went toward the postage to respond to his fan mail.
Long Life & Legacy
It was determined that Room 8 was 5 years old when he first came to Elysian Elementary.The school’s custodian, Sam Ross, was in charge of taking Room 8 to his yearly vet visits. Room 8 had relatively few health problems considering he was a stray cat. However, Room 8 did loose some of his teeth, suffer injuries from a cat fight in 1963, and came close to dying from pneumonia in 1964.
As long as he was healthy enough to do so, Room 8 continued showing up at the school every day. In his old age, he finally let one of the neighbors bring him into their house at night. Sam Ross would carry Room 8 across the street to the neighbor’s house every evening to ensure he safely crossed the street. If Room 8 did not “come home” at night, a group of people from the neighborhood would get out their flashlights and search for him until he was found. Room 8 also began to seek more affection from people as he got along in years.
Finally, in the summer of 1968, Room 8 passed away from kidney failure at the age of 22. His life was remembered at a small viewing and grave-side burial that included about a dozen people. A wreath of roses and carnations was laid on his grave by the family that took him in. Room 8 received a 3 column obituary and photo in the Los Angeles Times. Another publication, The Long Beach Press Telegram said of Room 8 :
“SCHOLARLY FELINE Cat Named Room 8 Loses the Last of 9 Lives- Room 8, a white and gray tomcat with a grammar school education, died Tuesday of a kidney ailment. He was 22, equivalent to 154 human years. The cat with the funny name is survived by pupils who have attended Elysian Heights School since 1953, the year he decided to make the school his home and the children his mascots.”
Those who were once children at Elysian Elementary remember Room 8 with great fondness. They remember all of the lessons they learned from getting to help take care of Room 8. His legacy lives on in the many monuments in his honor around the school. There is also a no-kill shelter called the Room 8 Memorial Cat Foundation that was named in his memory.