The Cat’s Cradle
Check into a hotel and you’ll likely find a shower cap, little bottles of shampoo and conditioner, some soap, an emergency sewing kit, and maybe some random other things provided, for free, in your room. Some places have free wifi; others may drop off a complimentary newspaper or gift you a piece of chocolate on your pillow. Few, if any, will provide companionship, however; that’s up to the traveller and in some cases, illegal. But for decades, the Anderson House, a small, historic Minnesotan bed and breakfast just west of the Mississippi River, did exactly that.
The companions, though, were cats.
The Anderson House (above) is in Wabasha, Minnesota. It was founded in 1856 and, by the early 1900s, the bed and breakfast (then known as the Hurd House) was acquired by the Anderson family. The Andersons established the now-renamed hotel due to the traditional Dutch menu they served to its guests; the official cookbook, by 1948, had a reported 500 or so homestyle Dutch recipes. The hotel, one of three in Wabasha according to TripAdvisor, maintained a good reputation over the course of the last century, especially among travelers who took kindly to the rustic, historic experience hotel could provide. Over the years, the Anderson House became a temporary home to thousands of guests.
And it also the permanent home to about a five to a dozen cats, depending on the year. As recently as 2006, there were Ginger, Arnold, Morris, Goblin, and Aloysious, among others, all cats, all living in the hotel, but the number varied. What didn’t change, though, was the cats’ popularity among guests. A Chicago Tribune article from 1985 talks about seven cats and noted that “demand far exceeds supply,” as there were 51 rooms in the inn at the time, and the feline friends were in use “99 percent of the time.” And while the cats, when available, were for hire, the asking price was very low: free. The couple that owned Anderson House at the time, Teresa and Mike Smith, didn’t charge guests for the extra guest in their rooms. (One caveat: Cats were only allowed in certain rooms, so guests were advised to discuss options when making their reservations at the inn.) In 2007, Mrs. Smith called the Anderson House “the state’s only legal cat house,” which, while dubious (and kind of meaningless on its face), helps demonstrate the hotel’s unique view of what hospitality entails.
Unfortunately, Anderson House fell on tough times when the economy turned in 2008/2009, and the Smiths were unable to afford to keep it open. The tried to keep it afloat economically but failed, entering into bankruptcy soon thereafter. The hotel closed in March of 2009 and took a while to find a new owner, especially when rumors of its haunting began cropping up. The good news is that new owners bought the place in late 2011, but the bad news is that they did so with a new rule: no more cats.
From the Archives: Acoustic Kitty: Maybe the cats were CIA spies? Doubtful, but it wouldn’t be the first time.
Related: “Blumpoe the Grumpoe Meets Arnold the Cat,” a book inspired by the cats of Anderson House. (Really.) Five stars on two reviews. Also, this thing, which comes up when you search for “cat hotels” on Amazon. $100 or so, 528 reviews, 4.6 stars on average, so cats must like it.