Kitten Colonies at the Mark Twain House

Generations of cats call the writer's famous house, Nook Farm, home.

On my first day working as an intern at The Mark Twain House & Museum, tiny mews echoed out from behind a dumpster. A few short hours later, my boss was bottle-feeding a pair of kittens and calling them Bangers and Mash.
I came to know that mews echoed all summer throughout the grounds of the writer’s famous home. Feral cats and kittens populate the property, known in Connecticut as Nook Farm (the neighborhood where Twain and his neighbors lived in Hartford’s heyday). Nook Farm is home to dozens of cats around The Mark Twain House & Museum, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, the World Affairs Council and the Hartford Children’s Theatre. These particular cats are the stuff of legend: the tailless white mother cat, the rough-and-tumble Tom, the out-of-place longhaired Siamese. Conversations often began, “The big black one was sitting on my hood when I came back from my lunch break,” or “I saw the hawks today. I hope they don’t catch any kittens.” Although we are a historic institution, we could not get enough of these living, lively, sometimes wild creatures.
One afternoon in April, I came out of the carriage house where my official new office was and saw the tumbling of a small seal-point Siamese. She could not have been more than 4 weeks old. I scrambled down the hillside and peered into the tiny teal pipe from which she’d wobbled out.
In and around the pipe were five furry, healthy kittens were bopping around. Two were twin Siamese sisters. One was black as night. Another had tiny white smudges on his nose. The last was the biggest, a black ball of fuzz winding himself around his mother’s legs.
The staff at the museum began to tame and care for the kittens. I spent every lunch hour sitting in the brush, waiting for a sight of them. As they started to wean from their mother, the kittens wandered out to our bowls of food.
After a few weeks of diligence, we were able to get the kittens to saunter into cat carriers, shut the doors, and take them out to vets to be adopted. I kept two: the Siamese I had first seen (she was the most adventurous of the kittens — I’d startled her mid-tree climb more than once) and the little black boy was the most loving and seemed to purr all of the time.
They were beautiful kittens; it was hard to believe they were wild. I took them home and spent every night of the week lying on the floor waiting for them to become comfortable. We named them Soapy Sall and Buffalo Bill, after two of Mark Twain’s own cats.
A year later, they are the most domesticated cats there ever existed.
Many staff members of The Mark Twain House are proud owners of Nook Farm cats. Since I found mine, two more litters have come along. They’ve been caught and given literary names, too. The executive director has an old, mischievous tomcat named Tom Sawyer. Just a few months ago we found a lone kitten in a dumpster, gave him away to a staff member’s mom, and named him Pestilence — another Twain cat name.
Mark Twain himself had more cats than we can count. He had enough names to go around. We will continue to rescue, rehabilitate, and adore Nook Farm kittens as long as they keep popping up around here. Though Mark Twain himself has been dead for one hundred years, his legacy of writing (and animal-loving!) lives on. The staff of his Hartford home will care for whatever lonely and bedraggled creatures are found on its grounds.

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