1904 - THE BLACK CAT AND THE COTTON KING
HOW A BLACK CAT CAUSED THE “ COTTON KINGS ” DOWNFALL
“ N*gg*r Bull ” Had Been Sullly’s Mascot, but When Turned Down in Favor of Tom Lawson Pinks He Quit the Game and Ruin Followed in Four Days.
The New York Times, May 1, 1904
[Note: I have censored the cat’s name as it contains a word that is offensive to modern sensibilities.]
ANY and varied have been the reasons given in explanation of the failure of Daniel J. Sully, the late “Cotton King." His downfall has been attributed to the inevitable forces working against the man who tries to “corner” a commodity; to the desertion in a time of need of his one-time friends; to the intrinsic lack of well-laid plans; but the actual reason for the defeat of Sully, embodied in a sleek black cat has been reserved by Fate for this article to tell.
Seldom in the history of the cotton Exchange has there been an equal to Sully, either m the respect of magnitude of operations, or of meteoric rise to power. Coming to the Exchange comparatively poor and without influence, Sully in a few years was conducting a business far greater than that of firms which had worked long and assiduously to build up the clientele which they finally possessed. In a series of sensational coups the young giant of the pit forced the price of cotton higher than it had been since the chaotic days of the civil war. Protests were in vain. The voices of the despairing bears were drowned in the mighty roars of the bulls, charging the field with Sully in the van. Higher and higher mounted the quotations in cotton - 14, 15, 16, 17, 20 cents – and still higher soared the figures; yet the end was not in sight. There were "slumps" of greater or less degrees, but Sully still held the upper hand and smiled. His appearance upon the floor of the Exchange was the signal for me capitulation of those who in his absence had taken the lead. What will Sully do? was the question that agitated the brokers. What will Sully do, and what will cotton do now that he is here? They never had long to wait. The answer invariably was soon forthcoming and it usually came in the form of a crushing blow to the "Kings" opponents. There seemed to be no limit to the power of Sully - and then a sleek, fat, black cat upset all his plans; lowered him ignominiously in the dust of defeat. The bears had been powerless to vanquish their enemy. All the combined strength of their concerted movement was as nothing against his will: it remained for a bull, and a bull in the form of a black cat, to accomplish Sully’s downfall.
N*gg*r Bull’s Debut.
Three years ago when the market was dull and the cotton brokers whiled away the time by playing checkers and “swapping yarns,” a bespattercd kitten one afternoon dragged its weary way across the floor. It was so weak that its legs trembled under it as it walked, and its coat was covered with dust and grime. How it had managed to climb the stairs to the flour of the Exchange was a mystery that the brokers did not try to solve. It was enough that the feat had been accomplished, and the advent of the kitten was greeted with a ringing cheer. In a moment there was a movement under way to purchase food for the newcomer. The hat of a broker was passed, and when it had completed the circle the generous sum of $10 had been secured. The janitor was summoned and admonished to feed and wash the cat, and to provide a place for it in the basement of the building. So well did he follow directions that the cat soon became a. recognized member of the Exchange.
Previous to the advent of the kitten the cotton market had been for a long term in the doldrums. Efforts to raise the wind had been of no avail; but simultaneously with its coming an advance began. The cause was so mysterious as to baffle the theorizing of the oldest member, and all efforts to fix upon the reason had been abandoned, when a broker recalled the coincidence of the rise with the coming of the kitten. A meeting was held at the close of business three days after the appearance of the cat and the janitor was again summoned. He appeared this time with his charge snuggled within his arms, but so changed was puss by the treatment she had meanwhile received that the brokers had difficulty in recognizing the object of their charity. The grime and smut had gone; so had the weakness. The cat jumped down upon the floor and rubbed itself delightedly against the legs of the amused brokers.
"We must name the cat,“ said one broker, "and I propose in view of its color and of the fact that the rise in cotton is undoubtedly due to its arrival that the name shall be “N*gg*r Bull”
A shout of acclaim greeted the speaker’s remarks, a vote was taken, and the official title conferred with due solemnity - and cotton continued slowly but surely to advance.
At Once Approves of Sully.
When Daniel J. Sully entered the Exchange as a member he was told of the history of N*gg*r Bull. The story interested him, and he made it an object to see and make the acquaintance of the hero of the romance. It is chronicled that N*gg*r Bull evinced from the first a fondness for Mr. Sully, and that their friendship soon ripened into Intimacy. The mutual esteem became the subject of laughing comment among the brokers. Then, to cap the climax, it was discovered that Mr. Sully was wearing upon the lapel of his coat a pin representing the figure of a black cat. Many stories are told of how Sully depended upon the talisman which he had selected in his operations. His friends twitted him upon his fancy. He did not deny the soft impeachment. "N*gg*r Bull is my mascot," was his Invariable reply. " I admit that I have a certain superstition about it, and I am not ashamed."
Then gifts began to flow in upon him. There were black cats in various forms. Black cats sitting upon the crescent moon. Black cats carved upon decorated panels. Black cats embellishing match boxes and toilet sets. Mr. Sullly received each particular gift with joy. His offices were made to resemble the noted "Chat Noir” of Paris. Black cats were to be seen on every hand. On his desk upon a small easel was a handsome photograph of N*gg*r Bull himself; standing in front of a fireplace was an elaborate screen of silk on which was worked the figure of a black cat, the silk giving it a peculiarly lifelike appearance; occupying a conspicuous place against the wall was a large painting representing a black cat seated coquettishly upon the crescent moon. At his home at similar condition existed, although not to so notable an extent. There were black cats in profusion, and Mr. Sully's star of fortune continued in the ascendant. He became more and more confident of his permanent hold. What older heads deemed impossible Sully considered a pastime. His judgment seemed infallible. He met each twist and turn in the writhing market with a promptness or decision that was remarkable, and admitted it as so even by his enemies.
The brokers tell of Sully’s peculiar method in arriving at a conclusion. They recall his habit of audibly arguing with himself until his decision was reached. If he were asked: “Will you take such a price for a certain lot of spot cotton?" his final response would come only after a spirited colloquy with himself. "No - no, I won’t take it," he would say. " Yes I will. No - can't do it. Well, let it go, I’ll do it,” and the deal was made. The brokers declare he was unable to reach a decision without talking it over aloud, and they asseverate further that before the final word he would invariably place a finger upon the button in the lapel of his coat. He never decided, they say, without the aid of N*gg*r Bull.
Strictly Attentive to Business.
And N*gg*r Bull seemed to appreciate the influence of his personality on the brilliant operator. By some occult intuition the cat seemed to feel the presence in the building of Mr. Sully. No sooner did he enter the swinging doors than N*gg*r Bull grew restive. If Mr. Sully were on the main floor while his black affinity was reposing peacefully against a chimney on the roof, the cat would be observed by the janitor to rise quickly and make its way down stairs. Arrived upon the main floor, it would thread its way through the throng of rushing, yelling brokers straight to the side of Mr. Sully where it would remain until he took his departure. Sully never failed to reward the attention of his friend by a caress or a gentle word. But as the days went by Mr. Sully became a busier and busier man. There were trips to be taken to New Orleans and to other cities where he had business connections. So firm seemed his position and so secure his fortune that the necessity for a "mascot" appeared less and less apparent. Gradually his attendance upon the floor of the Exchange became less regular. He had become as the General who directs his forces from a distant point and observes the effects of his plans in the proper perspective. Consideration of N*gg*r Bull as an ally grew less recurrent, although he still wore the button and permitted the counterfeit presentiments to adorn his offices. And then it was that Mr. Sully made the step that decided his future - or so it was, if keen observers are to be believed.
On a Winter's morning Mr. Sully journeyed to Boston for the purpose of paying a visit to no less a personage than Thomas W. Lawson. The visit lasted the several days which had been the prearranged limit, and then extended itself over several weeks. The pit grew anxious and so did N*gg*r Bull. Where Was Sully? What was he doing? Where was he going to "break out" next? were some of the queries that troubled their several and composite minds. He had seldom absented himself for so long a period; never at so critical a time. What did it mean? But Mr. Sully cared nothing for the concern his absence was generating. He was enjoying the hospitality of a princely host, and meanwhile kept a firm grasp on the market. When finally the visit terminated, he returned to New York and walked out upon the floor of the Exchange as it he had left it only the day before. In his appearance, however, there was a distinct alteration, which did not fail to attract the attention of the alert brokers. They viewed him askance, and then nodded significantly to their comrades. Their nods grew more portentous when, soon after his entry, N*gg*r Bull walked solemnly into the Exchange. The big cat sidled slowly toward the man who held "cotton" in the hollow of his hand- and then it did a peculiar thing. Instead of rubbing gently against his legs, as was its custom, the mascot halted and gazed upward toward Mr. Sully's face. For a moment it stood, as it waiting recognition, then turned slowly and walked away.
Advent of The Lawson Pink.
Mr. Sully noticed nothing. He had not the time. But that night the brokers were remarking upon the fact that the coat button in the lapel of Sully's coat had given place to a " Lawson pink," Mr. Sully had returned from Boston with a newly developed liking for carnations. Hits offices were filled with them. The black cats were not removed, as in the case of the button, but they were eclipsed. Charms, mascots, talismans, were no longer needed by Mr. Sully, neither was N*gg*r Bull. The return of Mr. Sully was early in March. For three days after his reappearance on the floor N*gg*r Bull journeyed from his resting place on the roof to the floor of the Exchange, only to find Mr. Sully engrossed in business, and with the “Lawson pink" flaring in his buttonhole. On the fourth day N*gg*r Bull disappeared, and then it was that Sully begin to show distress. The continued pressure of the bears and other antagonistic elements came upon the great operator with overwhelming force. He struggled valiantly against the odds, but his struggles were in vain. Then he noticed the absence of N*gg*r Bull. The Lawson pink did not appear in his buttonhole the following day, nor were his offices gay with flowers.
The N*gg*r Bull emblems were again in faver, and a search for the original was begun at Sully`s request, but the cat could not be found The cozy corner on the roof was deserted; so was the warm box in the basement of' the Exchange. Harder and stronger pressed the bears upon the Sully interests; lower and lower fell the prices of cotton. Sully, with all his nerve and generalship, was unable to stem the tide. His hand wandered instinctively to the cat button which again was affixed to his coat lapel, but weaker and weaker he became. “If that cat can’t be found within twenty-four hours," he was heard to say, " I shall lose the fight" - but. N*gg*r Bull dldn’t return. Pandemonium reigned in the cotton pit as the last day of Sully’s kingship waned. He appeared upon the floor, but his efforts were lacking their one time strength. Just four days after the disappearance of N*gg*r Bull New York was startled by the announcement of Sully’s failure, and to all reasons advanced for the king’s collapse his friends answer, laconically: “ N*gg*r Bull."
The Kiel Press. (Kiel, Oklahoma), Vol. 6, No. 49, Ed. 1 Thursday, April 7, 1904
Examiner Launceston, Tas. Tuesday 31 May, 1904.
Evening Post (NZ), Volume LXVII, Issue 150, 25 June 1904
The Weekly news Review, Crawfordsville, Indiana, Friday July 15, 1904
A MASCOT CAT. There is a black cat on the New York Cotton Exchange which, in the recent panicky times, has attracted a great deal of attention (says the "St. James's Budget"). it ia popularly supposed to be Daniel J. Sully'a mascot, and in his twenty-third floor of the Wall Exchange building there are many reproductions of the famous black cat of the Cotton Exchange. When brokers enter the Exchange from the Hanover SQudare entrance they always look for the black cat, which invariably sits at the entrance drowsing over a radiator. It has invariably been the case that whenever he moves hIs left hind leg for a stretch upward the market is bound to go up. Mr Sully first noticed this peculiarity of the black cat, and shaped his market operations for the day accordingly. Whenever the cat does not appear to take any notice of anyone the market is usually dead and lifeless. When the cat is not at his customary place on the radiator it is the invariable sign of a falling market. During the apanicky times recently brokers scanned the entrance in vain for the cat. Day after day the bull element searched the building for their mascot, but he could not be found. Day after day it was also found that the market slumped in panicky proportions. At last he made his first appearance for nearly a week after the big break occurred, and the market began to show signs of a rally. Some call the cat Dan.
ABOUT THE COTTON KING
According to the San Francisco Call (19 March 1904), Daniel Sully was a daring speculator who had controlled the cotton markets of the world for 15 months. He had predicted a shortage of cotton and had "bulled" cotton from 7 cents a pound to 17 cents a pound, but at 2.05 p.m. on March 17th, 1904, he unexpectedly announced his inability to make good his engagements on the New York Cotton Exchange. "We regret that we are unable to meet our engagements and will therefore have to suspend. DANIEL J. SULLY & CO." Within a few moments, the price of cotton had fallen by nearly $13 a bale. “Around 750,000 bales of cotton were traded in during the twenty minutes of panic that followed the announcement and that of this upward of 500,000 bales represented "forced liquidation." or the selling out of men whose margins have been nearly or quite wiped out.” It was suggested that the bear party had “figured out the weakness of Sully's position, due to immense holdings of spot and contract cotton and to his operations on the Liverpool market, and planned an attack on the market that would carry it down just far enough to make it impossible for Sully to meet his margin calls, knowing that his failure would send the market so much lower that they could cover at figures to recoup them.”
In 1907, he became very ill with pneumonia and a weak heart. These were partly attributed to the stress of his business problems. Sully faced bankruptcy, accusations of fraud and lawsuits for damages. While no other reports made much of Sully's "lucky black cat," when his chattels were sold off to cover his debts, it was noted that Sully had a framed poster print showing a black cat and that he had a sort of superstition about the luck of black cats, having several portrayals of them in his office. The poster was sold for $6.50 and a fire screen depicting a black cat was sold for $4. These prices were actually well above thair proper value, due to their association with Sully. Some of these items were resold to members of the Cotton Exchange as souvenirs. By June 1912, Sully was running a boarding house at Watch Hill, Rhode Island - not just managing it, but taking a hand in the hard work. The boarding house had prevously been his own Summer home. He died in September 1930. His daughter, Beth, was married to Douglas Fairbanks (senior) between 1907 and 1918 and was the mother of Douglas Fairbanks Jr.