Erin Blakemore writes of The legend of the ‘demon cat’ that roams the U.S. Capitol:
Since its first rumored appearance in the 1890s, the so-called Demon Cat (known as “D.C”.) has left a trail of terrified people in its wake. Some say it has appeared before tragic events, like the stock market crash of 1929 or President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination. Here’s how this spooky myth got started—and why it persists today.
Cat myths in the 19th century
Reports of “demon cats”—both real and supernatural—were bizarrely commonplace during the 19th century. In fact, cat-related mythology dates back centuries around the world. Scholars attribute the ubiquity of these tales to cats’ bodies and behavior, from their otherworldly sounds to their nocturnal habits and glowing eyes.
In Japan, for example, bakneko legends depicted revenge-hungry cats that behaved like humans. Italian parents wishing to scare their children into good behavior told them terrifying tales of a gigantic feline called Gatto Mammone. In Slavic mythology, an evil ovinnik was thought to haunt barns and even set them on fire. And in Ireland, tales of demon cats abounded in local lore.
Regardless of the legend’s source, it only grew over the years. In 1935, a Capitol policeman told the Washington Post he’d shot his gun at a large black cat with “the generous proportions of Mae West plus the disposition of Bela Lugosi.” By then, believers thought the cat was a tabby with headlight-like eyes, saying it could be found at the White House, too.
The demon cat today
But a set of feline footprints may be the biggest driver of the Demon Cat’s fame. They can be found on the cement floor of the Small Senate Rotundanear the entrance to the Old Supreme Court Chamber.
The Architect of the Capitol, the federal office that maintains and preserves the Capitol Building, attributes the paw prints to the rat-killing cats that once roamed the building, but those who subscribe to the Demon Cat myth disagree. They say the footprints only appeared after the rotunda was nearly destroyed by an explosion in 1898—an explosion they attribute to the malicious cat even though the official record says a gas explosion was to blame. These believers also say the initials D.C. carved into the same floor stand for Demon Cat.