America / ARTICLES

The Boston Globe: “Courageous cat’s story is told”

A black-and-white British cat named Felix, who immigrated to America in 1957 aboard a reproduction of the original Mayflower, is finding new fame as the subject of an illustrated children’s book.

“Felix and his Mayflower II Adventures,” which describes Felix’s two-month journey on the Mayflower II, will be released today at Plimoth Plantation.

It was written by first-time author Peter Arenstam, who is also in charge of repairing and sailing the Mayflower II, docked in Plymouth.

The release of the book coincides with the 50th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower II, a wooden reproduction of the original Mayflower that was given by Britain to the United States to symbolize the solidarity between the two countries following World War II. Plimoth Plantation spokeswoman Jennifer Monac said, “It was sort of like the Statue of Liberty was a gift from France.”

In 1957, as the Mayflower II was about to set sail for Plymouth, Felix was given to the crew as a good-luck companion. During the trip, he had his share of mishaps – under the foot of a sailor who stepped on his paw and broke it. (The ship’s doctor set the paw and all was well.) On better days, he caught flying fish on the ship’s deck. Like the other crewmembers, Felix had his own lifejacket – just in case.

After his arrival in America, Felix enjoyed feline fame. He toured the East Coast with the ship’s crew and participated in New York City’s ticker-tape parade for the crew.

Stories about him and his photographs appeared in National Geographic, Life magazine, and Yankee magazine. He also was featured in several newspapers. Eventually, Felix was adopted by the cabin boy’s girlfriend, Ann Berry, and he settled in Waltham.

All of which provided ample fodder for Arenstam’s book.

Arenstam will read from “Felix and his Mayflower II Adventures” from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. next Monday through Friday at Plimoth Plantation. Although the 64-page book has more words than pictures, and is intended primarily for fourth- and fifth-graders, all children are invited to attend.

Arenstam, the father of two daughters, said children, including his niece, told him they liked the book because they could identify with the cat, who felt afraid and lost in the beginning, but became “a real sailor” at the end.

It is not known, he said, whether there were any cats on the original Mayflower, but it wasn’t uncommon for 17th-century vessels to travel with cats on board to keep mice and rats in check. It is known, however, that the original Mayflower carried two dogs, as well as goats, chickens, and pigs, to America.

The earliest mention of a cat in New England was in 1634 in William Wood’s book, “New England’s Prospect,” according to Plimoth Plantation’s research manager, Carolyn Travers. In that book, published 14 years after the Mayflower’s arrival, Wood talked about the role cats played in protecting corn fields from chipmunks, rabbits, and squirrels.

Copies of Arenstam’s book, as well as stuffed-animal kittens wearing lifejackets, will be available for sale at Plimoth Plantation’s bookstore and on the Internet at plimoth.org. Information about other events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Mayflower II also can be found on the site.

Julie Masis can be contacted at greenelephant888@yahoo.com.

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