was a cat who adopted the children of Elysian Heights School in Echo
Park, California. He lived at the school from 1952 until his death
attended the school and knew Room 8, Beverly Mason, Virginia Finley
and Sam Ross.
He was portly, gray even at a young age, and liked
to drink from faucets. He slept on desks, under desks and on rugs. He roamed
halls and entered classrooms with impunity. He was Room 8, the most famous cat
in Los Angeles. He was my friend and schoolmate.
8 circa 1964.
Room 8 was a large, shorthair gray striped tabby
cat who adopted Elysian Heights Elementary School in Echo Park. He showed up one
day in 1952 and stayed at the school until his death in 1968.
Except for summer vacations─Room 8 disappeared
each summer, and then returned to school on the first day of classes in
I first became acquainted with Room 8 in 1956 when
I was in kindergarten. Our teacher, Miss Allen, told us about the cat, and his
story, but I thought she said his name was "Room Mate." It made sense, too, as
the cat was the roommate of all the students at the school.
Former student Angie (Medrano) Nicolai, who
graduated in 1965, remembers kindergarten, "My first recollection of Room 8 was
Miss Mason introducing him to our kindergarten class. I remember thinking
that he was a big cat in her arms. She wanted us to know that he belonged
to the school and that there may be times he would come into our classroom to
visit. She put him down and he immediately jumped up on the desk next to
the window to take a nap in the warm sun."
Like most elementary schools in the 1950's,
Elysian Heights had lots of rules. Don't talk in class. Wait in line. Raise your
hand. Don't run in the hallway. No talking for the first ten minutes at lunch.
All these rules were dwarfed in comparison to THE RULE.
I remember from later years transgressors of THE
RULE returning palled from a session in the office with Miss Mason, the
principal. And these were the very boys who snickered at authority, ran in the
hallway and talked during the first ten minutes of lunch. There were few, if
any, second violators of THE RULE.
For me THE RULE was easy to follow. I adored cats.
Former teacher, Bob Bedwell recalled, "I saw one kid move (his seat) because the
cat took his place." THE RULE, of course, was "Don't bother the cat."
One former student said, "I never liked Room 8
because he sat on my homework." Former teacher Richard Arrow recalled that in
deference to THE RULE, he appointed a student as "cat remover" whose job it was
to relocate the tubby tabby when he interfered too much with classroom
operations. Former teacher Ray Howell recalled Room 8 as "a very important
member of the faculty," who occasionally slept on his foot while he was
Room 8 came to Elysian Heights in 1952. "It was
1952 when a cat walked into the school. Many of the students who saw him are
grown-ups now." wrote Beverly Mason and Virginia Finley in Room 8's biography, "A Cat Called Room 8" (published in 1966).
"The cat walked around the room. He jumped up and
walked on the desks. Hands reached out and petted him. Someone said, ‘This I the
skinniest cat I've ever seen.' " The children gave the cat some milk and went
out for recess. When they returned, they discovered their lunches had been
raided and the cat was fast asleep.
Later, the cat followed the children to lunch.
According to the book, "The children gave him food from their lunches. He ate,
and he ate, and he ate! Then, he walked across the playground and out the gate."
The following morning, the children were met by
the cat who followed them into the classroom. Overcoming objections from the
teacher, the cat was eventually adopted by the children, but he still didn't
have a name. One student said, "Why not call him ‘Room 8', since that is the
number of our room?"
Mason wrote in 1968, "No one knew where he went at
night or during vacation. Like the swallows of Capistrano, he returned every
September for the opening of school to sleep on the desks of children. Finally,
he became the school mascot." According to Mason, Room 8 was a neighborhood cat
who was born in 1947 and was mistreated by a boarder in the home where he lived.
Room 8's notoriety began to grow. The local news
media began to take notice of his annual autumnal return to school. To students
such as me, he was just part of the everyday scene at school. After all, didn't
every school have a famous mascot? He usually could be seen patrolling the hall
or asleep in some warm, sunny spot.
He frequently made an appearance during lunch.
Even though feeding him was discouraged, he didn't discourage handouts when
sampling delicacies from our little metal lunch pails. Room 8 was no longer a
skinny cat. He had grown to be a big boy!
I don't remember much about our student government
organization at Elysian Heights. I do remember, though, the most important
position a student could hold wasn't that of student body president. It was the
holds Room 8 in this sixth grade portrait from June, 1958.
The cat feeder or cat monitor wasn't an elected
position. That most prestigious of all positions was appointed from within the
ranks of the sixth grade class by collaboration between the teacher and
Principal Beverly Mason. An added benefit of being the cat feeder was having
access to that most secret and restricted area on campus, the teachers' lounge,
where Room 8 dined. The chosen one also got to hold Room 8 for the annual sixth
grade class portrait.
Room 8's fame grew beyond the borders of Echo
Park, or even Los Angeles. LOOK magazine ran a three page spread by
photographer Richard Hewett in November 1962, titled
published a three page spread on Room 8 in November, 1962 with
photographs by Richard Hewett.
"Room 8: The School Cat". His biography, written
by principal Mason and teachers Finley and Valerie Martin was published by
Putnam's in 1966. Room 8 made personal appearances with Mason and his feeders at
local cat shows and community groups. He was made an honorary member of various
A short article about him appeared in the
Weekly Reader (a national newspaper for elementary school pupils) in
January, 1967. He appeared on Art Linkletter's "House Party" television show
several times and was featured in a segment of the 1968 NBC-David L. Wolper
television documentary, "Big Cats, Little Cats."
Teacher Shari Kerr later wrote, "I remember the
many times radio, television, and newspaper people came to visit our classroom,
Room 8. The only calm member of our class was Room 8. We were always nervous but
to him it was routine and he was a ham actor."
Room 8 is remembered in different ways. Beverly
Graham, whose children attended Elysian Heights, and now has a grandchild
attending the school said, "He was always there. (He was a) great cat. Everybody
liked him." Jean Baird, a former school clerk said, "Room 8 gave the school
something that the students liked-a symbol-a cat taken in and cared for."
Read more about Room 8