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THE HISTORY CENTER BLOG

The History Center blog shares research and findings about local history, excerpts from the History Center Archives, information about upcoming exhibits and other opportunities on how to get involved with The History Center in Tompkins County. To learn more or view the archival materials mentioned, visit us in downtown Ithaca, follow us on social media @TompkinsHistory, or subscribe to our monthly newsletter History Happenings

A Long Term Community Project Completes its Last Stitch

Wed, November 30, 2022 2:12 PM | Anonymous

A Long Term Community Project Completes its Last Stitch

In 2017 The History Center collaborated with Phyllis Smith-Hansen on a re-design of the iconic Tabby Cat/Ithaca Kitty toy first created in Ithaca NY in 1892 at 116 Oak Ave

While exploring our collections Smith-Hansen discovered that Caesar Grimalkin, the original feline inspiration for the world-popular toy, had been polydactyl - with seven toes on each of his front paws. 

Smith-Hansen worked with local artist Stan Bowman to re-design the bottom panel to more accurately represent Caesars historic paws. Thanks to a small-scale grant and the coordinating work of Smith-Hansen The History Center was able to print 500 cloth panels of the historically updated toy. From 2018-2020 Smith-Hansen coordinated community volunteer "Sew-a-thons" to complete Ithaca Kitties for sale through The History Center as an ongoing fundraiser. Dozens of volunteer sewists contributed time, labor, thread, and nimble fingers to complete the three panel design.

With the rapid introduction of covid-19 in 2020, and all in-person programming put on hold indefinitely, completion of Ithaca Kitty toys settled into a home project for a small number of dedicated volunteers. Between 2021-2022 all Ithaca Kitties sold through our online store (which went live for the first time in 2020) and through the Downtown Visitors Center were made by Deb Siegert (with some cutting and piecing support from the entire Siegert family). All told the volunteer sewists that contributed to this project between 2017-2022 - and the happy Ithaca Kitty purchasers - have raised over $12,000 in support of The History Center. 

This holiday season finds us at the very end of our stock of Ithaca Kitties. Lovingly re-discovered and re-designed to honor the unique multi-toed historic "Itha-kitty" in 2017, and handpieced and sewed through community support over the last five years. This isn't the end of the Ithaca Kitty, our cat themed puns on social media, our recognition of the industry and ingenuity of his creators Celia & Charity Smith, or the end of us highlighting Caesar as our unofficial History Center mascot - but it is an indeterminate pause in the availability of an Ithaca Kitty handmade in Ithaca, NY. 

There are less than a dozen Ithaca Kitties left between the Visitor Center and The History Center online store. It seems fitting that a toy that first hit the world stage for the holiday shopping season of 1892 should have its own sell-out during the holiday season 130 years later. Purchase at thehistorycenter.net/store or hit up Ben Sandberg with a fundraising idea on how to bring the Ithaca Kitty back into print and production, and explore archival collection V-63-9-8-2 to learn more about this iconic American toy. 

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Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫˀ Territory

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