WINGED CATS - HISTORICAL REPORTS
Over the years there have been many reports of "winged cats" and these have frequently been treated as cryptozoological phenomena. There are at least 28 documented cases with physical evidence and a growing number of photographs and videos. Several bodies and living winged cats have been examined and there is at least one stuffed specimen, but this may be a nineteenth century fake. The vast majority of winged cats are the result of poor grooming. A minority are due to a developmental defect or an uncommon hereditary skin condition (Cutaneous Asthenia" and is related to the human Ehler-Danlos Syndrome), although these causes tend to be hyped, probably because they seem more exciting than the mundane cause of matted fur!
Winged Cats - Recent Reports
Winged Cats - Historical Reports
Winged Cats - Myth, Legend and Fakes
Winged Cats - Vet Reports, Causes and Medical Issues
1842. Thoreau's Report
Possibly the earliest report of a winged cat is that by Henry David Thoreau: "A few years before I lived in the woods there was what was called a 'winged cat' in one of the farm-houses in Lincoln nearest the pond, Mr. Gillian Baker's. When I called to see her in June, 1842, she was gone a-hunting in the woods, as was her wont ... but her mistress told me that she came into the neighbourhood a little more than a year before, in April, and was finally taken into their house; that she was of a dark brownish-grey colour, with a white spot on her throat, and white feet, and had a large bushy tail like a fox; that in the winter the fur grew thick and flattened out along her sides, forming strips ten or twelve inches long by two and a half wide, and under her chin like a muff, the upper side loose, the under matted like felt, and in the spring these appendages dropped off. They gave me a pair of her 'wings,' which I keep still. There is no appearance of a membrane about them. Some thought it was part flying squirrel or some other wild animal, which is not impossible, for, according to naturalists, prolific hybrids have been produced by the union of the marten and the domestic cat. This would have been the right kind of cat for me to keep, if I had kept any; for why should not a poet's cat be winged as well as his horse? "
1800s - early 1900s. Miscellaneous Winged Cat Reports
An undated case from Leeds in the early 1900s involved a winged cat at the centre of a custody dispute with one party claiming him to be their cat, Thomas, and the other claiming it to be their feline, Bessy. Thomas/Bessy was born in 1900 at Bramley Workhouse and when he died he was exhibited at fairs in a glass case. The last sighting of the taxidermised cat in his display case was at a pub in Scarborough owned by a Mrs Clague the daughter of the last showman to have it.
In "Animal Fakes and Frauds" (1976), Peter Dance wrote of a 19th century winged cat that was preserved and offered for sale in the early 1960s (unlikely to be Thomas/Bessy as the dates do not correspond). According to information about the creature, distributed from an address on London's Bond Street, the wings had grown when the cat was very young. It had been exhibited during the 19th century by a circus owner until its original owner demanded its return. A lawsuit ensued and the cat was ordered to be shipped back to its original owner. It died in transit and it was alleged that it had been deliberately poisoned. Its body was taxidermised and placed in a glass case displayed in a pub, ultimately ending up in an attic until being rediscovered and offered for sale. Dance had offered, apparently unsuccessfully, to buy it in order to discover whether or not it was genuine.
An undated, but old, winged cat taxidermy specimen can be found in the Niagara Valley. It has bony structures near its shoulder blades covered with flaps of skin. The specimen appears genuine, but the nature of the bony structures is unknown (possibly extra limbs).
Another early report comes from India in 1868, but it is not possible to make a positive identification. The report described a nondescript animal, said to be a flying cat. The Bhells called it pauca billee, from the Hindi "pankha billi" (winged cat). It had been shot by Mr Alexander Gibson, in the Punch Mehali and the dried skin exhibited at a meeting of the Bombay Asiatic Society. The skin measured 18 inches (44 cm) in length, and was quite as broad when extended in the air. Mr Gibson, who was well known as a member of the Asiatic Society and a contributor to its journal, believed it to be a cat, and not a bat or a flying-fox as other people contended.
In August 1894, a report of a winged cat appeared in the Independent Press. A live cat with duckling-like wings was exhibited in the neighbourhood by Mr David Badcock of the Ship Inn, Reach, Cambridgeshire, England. The year old cat had only revealed its wings after being somewhat roughly handled. The owner was charging 2 pennies for callers in the daytime to see his winged cat and had begun to take it around neighbouring villages in the evening. Several days later, the Cambridge Weekly News carried a similar account, presumably of the same cat. A sceptic had apparently asked the paper for further details about the winged cat which flew about in the village of Reach, near Peterborough and had suggested that there had been a good reason for the cat to hide its wings for 12 months, only unfolding them when gooseberries were ripening! The paper advised him not to make light of cats since creatures that are as much at home on the roof as in the cellar and that are never reached by stones, bullets, bootjacks or water thrown out of the window, could well be the winged cat of Reach in disguise! At the same time as the second report Independent Press reported that the "remarkable cat" had been stolen, but it was hoped that the perpetrators would soon by apprehended as the cat had apparently been traced to Liverpool, England. It is possible that the cat had shed its wings, leaving its owner somewhat embarrassed.
1897. Matlock, Derbyshire, England
In 1897 a winged feline was discovered in Matlock, Derbyshire and was described in a local newspaper as 'an extraordinary large tortoiseshell tom cat with fully grown pheasant's wings projecting from each side of its fourth ribs'. According to eyewitnesses state the cat used its outstretched wings to increase its speed as it ran. If genuine, the cat would have been unique for two reasons - its 'pheasant's wings' and the rarity of male tortoiseshell cats. The story was reported in the High Peak News of Saturday 26 June 1897:
Extraordinary Capture at Winster: A Tomcat With Wings. The most interesting item in natural history, so far as the Matlock district is concerned, transpired this morning (Friday). Our reporter learns that Mr Roper of Winster, while on Brown Edge near that village, shot what he thought to be a fox, which had been seen in the locality some time previously, on Mr Foxlow's land. Thinking he had missed his aim, Mr Roper gave up the quest, but returning later he found he had killed the animal. It proved to be an extraordinarily large tomcat, tortoiseshell in colour with fur two and a half inches long, with the remarkable addition of fully-grown pheasant wings projecting from each side of its fourth rib. Unfortunately, the climate having been so excessively hot, the animal was allowed to putrefy, and after being generally exhibited all round the district the carcase has now been interred. It was seen by Mr Joseph Hardy and ample witnesses, so that there is no doubt the museums have missed a most curious animal. Never has its like been seen before, and eye-witnesses state that when running the animal used its wings outstretched to help it over the surface of the ground, which it covered at a tremendous pace.'
1899. Wiveliscombe, Somerset, England
In 1899, London's Strand Magazine contained a report of a 'winged cat' or kitten belonging to a woman living in Wiveliscombe, Somerset, England. A photo accompanied a short item in the November issue of Strand Magazine, whimsically entitled "Can a Cat Fly?". The cat was normal in every way, except for two fur-covered growths sprouting from either side of its mid-back. These flapped about like the wings of a scurrying chicken whenever the cat moved. The Wiveliscombe kitten was able to lift up its wings. Cat fancier, breeder and prolific writer on all matter feline, HC Brooke, described the winged cat in his weekly magazine "Cat Gossip" in 1927: "This cat had growing from its back two appendages which reminded the observer irresistibly of the wings of a chicken before the adult feathers appear. These appendages were not flabby, but apparently gristly, about six or eight inches long, and place in exactly the position assumed by the wings of a bird in the act of taking flight. They did not make their appearance until the kitten was several weeks old. Alas! One of those brutes in human form who, encouraged by callous or knock-kneed magistrates [Brooke meant those too lenient with animal abusers], still are too plentiful, cut off the 'wings' with fatal results to the cat!"
1926 – Sheldon’s Winged Kitten, Albany
On June 4th, 1926, a report circulated by the United Press announced the birth of a winged kitten in Albany: “A winged kitten and a four legged chicken were born within a few days of each other in the vicinity of Glenn Falls, the Albany Knickerbocker Press said today. The kitten is the property of Guy Sheldon, of Hudson Falls. It has a wing spread of ten inches, Sheldon says.
1926. Kingray’s Winged Cat, Washington
This report of a winged cat was published in various papers in July 1926. “Winged ‘Cat’ on Ninth Life Is New Discovery. Mystery Animal in Washington Reported to U. of C. Zoology Department. [Report from Berkeley July 9th, 1926] At last science is on the possible verge of a great discovery regarding the number of lives allotted to cats. An animal resembling a cat, except that it has wings with a spread of about one foot, has been discovered by Arthur Kingray, a Washington state rancher. Kingray, who reported his find to Dr. Joseph Grinnell of the University of California museum of vertebrate zoology today, thinks that the animal was a cat living its ninth life, and was so near to cat heaven that its wings were already sprouting. The creature had a cat’s head and body, with four rows of muscled flesh having a spread of one foot down the back, and weighing about 25 pounds, the rancher informed Dr. Grinnell. ‘If this man is not suffering from a hallucination, the creature he killed may be a flying fox,’ says the zoologist. ‘The flying fox comes nearest to fitting this description. It is a member of the bat family, comes from Southeastern Asia, and is noted for causing great destruction to fruit orchards.’ Great pains have been taken to exclude this pest from the United States.”
While the flying fox may have come closest to fitting the description, a matted long-haired cat comes even closer, especially as there were a total of 4 wings as this advertisements in August 1926 proclaimed: “Winged Cat From Yakima. Don't miss seeing this monstrous cat with four wings. Caught by Arthur Kingrey. Already viewed by 20,000 people; declared the most remarkable freak of years.” The Klamath News of August 14th, 1926 also carried a short news item: “Four-Winged Cat To Be Shown Here For Two Full Days. The winged cat that has been attracting attention throughout the West wherever shown will be on exhibition in Klamath Falls this afternoon, tonight and Sunday in a tent located on North Seventh, half block from Main [street]. This cat, which is believed a cross between a Persian and a mink, was captured in the chicken yard of Arthur Kingrey at Wapato, Washington, and has been viewed by 20,000 people. It has four wings and is considered one of the greatest freaks of the age.Interested with Kingrey in the display of the cat is Eldy Chisholm, former resident of this city and Algoma.”
The report in Time Magazine in 1926 read : "Citizens of Portland, Oregon, flocked to see a curious creature publicly exhibited by one Arthur Kingery [note: various spellings are given in news reports] of Wapato, Washington, who said he had captured it in his chicken-yard. It was a cat, thrice the size of a house cat, with a tail heavy and furry, like a coyote's. On each side of its spine, beginning just back of the shoulders, grew a pair of muscular ridges, for all the world like two pairs of rudimentary wings, furred heavily. The feline's hind feet measured five inches, spreading out like the feet of a snow-shoe rabbit. Old settlers were reminded of Paul Bunyan's "minktums" and "tigermonks." Natural scientists suspected it was a cross between a lynx and a house cat. Nature lovers recalled that Naturalist Henry David Thoreau, in his book Walden mentioned a "winged cat." It was the pet of a farmer-neighbor, d scribed as "dark brownish grey color, with a white spot on her throat, and white feet, and had a large bushy tail like a fox; that in the winter the fur grew thick and flatted out along her sides, forming strips ten or twelve inches long by two and a half wide, and under her chin like a muff, the upper side loose, the under matted like felt, and in the spring these appendages dropped off. They gave me a pair of her 'wings,' which I keep still. There is no appearance of a membrane about them."
Verdict: Persian-type cat with matted fur.
1933/4. Oxford, England
In 1933 or 1934 (dates vary), a winged black and white cat was captured in the garden of a private house in Oxford, England. Mrs Hughes Griffiths found the cat in her stables during the evening of 9th June, 1934. She saw it unfurl a pair of long black wings sprouting just in front of its hindquarters and jump on to a beam. She described the distance as 'considerable' but apparently did not think of measuring it. She did not think it could have leapt the distance unaided and claimed it had used its wings in a manner similar to a bird, she said. Mrs Hughes phoned Oxford Zoo for assistance and the zoo's curator W E Sawyer and managing director Frank Owen arrived with a net. The two men captured Mrs Hughes' winged cat, and took it back to the zoo, where it was displayed for some while. Its wings were 6 in (15 cm) long. (The piece of cord visible in the photo is a leash.)
1933/4. Portpatrick, Wigtownshire, Scotland
In 1936, a winged cat was found on a farm near Portpatrick, Wigtownshire, Scotland. From all accounts it was a very odd looking cat. It was described as a white longhair with one blue and one red eye. Its wings were flaps 6 in (15 cm) long and 3 in (7.5 cm) wide on its back and were said to rise when the cat ran and 'fold down into her side' when she rested. This is consistent with large mats of fur or loose flaps of skin which flap about when a cat was in motion, but rest hanging down under their own weight when the cat stands still.
1939. Attercliffe, Sheffield, England
In 1939, a black and white winged cat from Attercliffe, Sheffield, England, was sold by its owner, Mrs M Roebuck, to a Blackpool museum of freaks. Sally, actually a black-and-white male cat boasted a 2 ft wingspan and wings which could be actively raised above his body. According to Mrs Roebuck, Sally used his wings to assist him in making lengthy leaps through the air.
1940s. Ashford, Middlesex, England
During the Second World War, a large, overweight black-and-white cat in Ashford, Middlesex was a local attraction because of the wings which sprouted from its shoulders. It was owned by two pensioners and people peered over their garden wall for a glimpse of the winged cat. Overweight cats frequently have problems grooming themselves and this can result in matted fur.
1945 – Sheffield Winged Cat
This Flying Cat Has Sets Of Wings Forward And Aft (Traverse City Record, July 17th, 1945). London. ‘Nobody has to believe it, but there’s a winged cat in the city pound at Sheffield. Not just an ordinary winged cat, but a cat with two sets of wings, fore and aft. And fellows who’ve seen it in action swear over their beer that the "winged cat” can soar ten feet in the air from a sitting start. That, at least, is the story relayed from Sheffield by a London newspaper last night. You’re not required to do anything but doubt it, but it’s recorded that the cat has a front pair of wings with a span of 14 inches from tip to tip, and a rear set measuring six inches. They’re covered with black fur topside and ribbed below.
Wingy is no novelty in Sheffield, because there was another one around there about six years ago and this full-grown Tom may be an offspring that inherited his flying gear. It wr.a* last Friday night when this outlandish tomcat showed up, flying fitfully down a side street in Sheffield A startled citizen intercepted him and turned him over to the police. The police weren’t sure about the law on flying cats, so they gave him to the local pound. And that's where Wingy is supposed to be today. If his owner doesn’t come forward, they’ll probably have to dispose of him, regretfully. Since the pound frowns on putting animals on exhibition or using them for scientific purposes until they are dead, the flying cat of Sheffield probably won’t be exposed to the public gaze alive. Unless that owner shows up pretty quickly.’
1949. Northern Sweden
In June 1949 a 24 inch (60.9 cm) long, 20 lb (9.07 kg) winged cat was shot dead in northern Sweden. It had the largest recorded feline 'wing-span' of 23 inches (58.4 cm). It had allegedly swooped down on a child before being shot. The body was given to the local museum. Though said to have hindquarters covered in feathers, a report from Professor Rendahl of the State Museum of Natural History said the wings were a deformity of the skin which happened to take the shape of wings.
1950. Sutton, Nottinghamshire
In 1950, a winged tortoiseshell cat called Sandy became star attraction at a carnival in Sutton, Nottinghamshire. Sandy was an adult cat but unaccountably grew a sizeable pair of wings and was loaned to the carnival by her owners. Such was her impact, that she was fondly remembered many years later by local people. Since there were no previous reports of Sandy growing wings, this sounds like a case of matted fur.
1950 – Angolina, Madrid, Spain
On May 29th, 1950, a widely circulated report continued the story of Spain’s winged cat. “Fur-Winged Cat Amazes Spain, Birds Too if It Learns To Fly. Madrid, Spain — It will be a sad day for the birds when Angolina learns to use her wings. He said 30,000 persons have tried Angolina is a cat. And she is the only cat in this or any other country with wings, her owner, Juan Priego, proudly claims. Priego’s cat, a dusty gray Angora, has 10 inch fur-covered wings sprouting from the middle of her back and folding neatly over each side. Priego admitted that Angolina still has not learned how to spread her wings and take off after birds in their own element, but he explained that she is pretty young yet. “We have had her three months,” the 55 year-old Priego said. “We took her over from a neighbour who would not feed her. Except for the wings, she is like any other cat.” And Angolina is. She has green eyes, whiskers and she meows.
Priego and his 50 year-old wife, Victoria, have given Angolina a place of honor in the kitchen of their basement apartment because she is such an unusual pet. So unusual, in fact, that Priego has turned down offers running as high s $70,000 and plans to take her on tour in Mexico next week if the government will give him and his cat a passport. He said 30,000 persons have tried to get a look at Angolina since the news got out that she is a cat with wings. “We started out charging a fee to see her, but it got out of bounds,” Priego said. He said the rush was so great it nearly drove his wife crazy. Mrs. Priego, armed with a stick to repulse a horde of curious visitors trying to peek in through the kitchen door, confirmed this. “I have been married 30 years, but I never went through anything like this,” she said. “I can’t rest, can’t eat or can’t sleep anymore. It’s horrible.”
Priego said his has many admirers. “An Air Force captain offered to swap me his house for her. Wanted to take her on tour.” He wouldn’t say who the Air Force capotain was, but said another bidder had offered him 700,000 pesetas ($70,000) if he would sell Angolina. Doctors who have examined Angolina say that the wings are real. They are formed by a type of cartilage. All the excitement doesn’t bother Angolina. Wings folded neatly over her body, she dozes in the Priego kitchen and licks her wings – almost like any other cat.
This brief report appeared in US newspapers, including the Anniston Star, on June 2nd, 1950. WINGED CAT — Juan Priege, of Madrid, Spain, holds the wings of his cat, Angolina, as she sprawls on a table, bewildered by the fuss ever her 10-inches-long, fur-covered wings. Doctors who have examined the cat say that the wings which sprout from Angolina’a middle and fold over each side, are real, formed by a type of cartilage.
According to circulating reports on June 1st, 1950, Angolina was a hoax. “News Service Says Winged Cat Is Just Hoax. Madrid’s much-publicized “winged cat” whose owner fondly hoped would bring him a fortune, turned out today to be just another — if unusual — feline. Offers of thousands of dollars poured in from exhibitors of human and animal freaks when word got around that Madrid a Janitor Juan Prieto [sic] was in possession of an extraordinary cat with “wings.” Police had to rope off Prieto’s house to hold back the curious. Pictures appearing in the Madrid press appeared to substantiate Prieto's claim and offers started coming in. One man even offered to exchange a small farm for the animal. An on the spot investigation by International News Service disclosed that a mixed Angora-Siamese cat which had been given to Prieto had abnormally developed shoulder blades that lie along its sides like short wings. These fur-covered protuberances however, are incapable of even penguin-like flapping, much less anything in the nature of flight.”
In New York, Dr. Lee S. Crandall, general curator of birds and mammals at the Bronx Park zoo, said, “A winged cat sounds unlikely but not impossible, or rather just as impossible as anything mundane can be. It may be a cat with some abnormal skin flaps. But I never heard of a winged cat. I'd be very amazed to see anything I resembling a cat with wings.” Crandall said it sounded as if the curiosity might be a "flying fox” or a fruit bat. He said such a bat is about the size of a cat, vaguely resembles one, has a long face, ears and actually flies, which Angolina does not. Nor does a flying fox meow, and Angolina reputedly does. ‘It sounds to me too much like someone working up a way to get to Mexico,’ he said. And another member of the zoo staff asked skeptically, ‘Is this fiesta time in Madrid?’
On July 26th, 1950, the news agencies reported that “Several cat owners claiming their pets had wings which they hoped would carry them to fame and riches had their dreams blown sky-high today. They had been offering their supposed winged cats at fancy prices for three months. But Prof. Antonio Zulueta of the natural sciences museum announced that careful research showed the “wings” really were large locks of hair. They had been formed symmetrically, he said, by fine hairs shed by angora cats and had been matted into a hardened mass by body accretions. The wings on the celebrated wing cat of Madrid fell off recently.”
At that point, Angolina was apparently relinquished to a humane society because by October 9th, 1950, the reports were no longer about Angolina’s wings, but about the lack of them: “Angolina, Winged Cat, Settles Down. Angollna, the cat who became an attraction center by growing a pair of “wing,” was another tabby today. She was raising a litter of six wingless kittens in the home of a Humane society official where she became a mother — and lost her wings in the process. ‘The wings were real all right,’ said the official, Maria Garcia Chicote. She unrolled them from an old newspaper! ‘Beautiful fur and cartilage. They just fell off.’”
Verdict: Angora-type cat with matted fur.
1950 – Mithi/Michi, Madrid, Spain
Angolina was not the only winged cat in Spain as this United Press report of June 14th, 1950, shows: Second Winged Cat Crops Up In Spain (by Haynes Thompson). Madrid, Spain. Mithi is just like any other cat with wings, except than Mithi can fly. Or so claims Mithi’s owner, Senora Josefa Munoz, 63 year-old widow. The claim is doubted by the owner of Angolina, a cat which has wings but doesn’t fly.
Senora Munoz , permitted this correspondent to stroke Mithi's foot long angora wingspread. There was a purr like an airplane, motor. But she wouldn’t ask the cat to fly. You just have to take the word of-Senora Munoz, who has an honest-looking face, or the word of her neighbors. Mithi just took to the ozone last, week, Senora Munoz said. Mithi was perched on [a] six-foot backfence when suddenly she meowed and went into a 15-foot glide, landing on the roof of an inside court, her owner said. The widow Munoz insisted “It was more than a jump. Mithi’s wings were out and she seemed to glide."
Senora Munoz said Mithi has been flying each day since her solo and the neighbors, whose kitchen windows overlook the roofed court, agreed. By yesterday several thousand curious were standing outside the Munoz home. “We can't go on like this,” Senora Munoz fretted as she looked at the crowd pressed around her door, “We'll have to sell Mithi.” She said she already has received an offer of $4000.
But Juan Priego, owner of Angolina, Spain’s first winged cat to receive publicity, poo-poohed the story of Mithi. Angolina is on display in a glass cage at an exhibit where persons paid two pesetas each to see her yesterday. The two winged cat this correspondent has seen, Mithi, and Angolina are in other respects alike. The eat cat food, not bird seed.”
"According to newspaper reports, Madrid, Spain has been very excited during the past few months at the appearance of winged cats in the city. Here is one of them, Michi by name. Except for the "wings" on each side of the body, Michi is like any other cat and veterinarians have stated that these are formed by a quick growth of cartilage that eventually forms bone. They are well covered by fur and sprout up to 10 inches in length. The cat is able to fold them up chickenwise. It is reported that thousands of people have rushed to see the flying cats of Madrid and in one instance the owners have "cashed in" to the extent of a substantial daily gate. Fantastic sums are said to have been involved in insurance, exploitation rights, etc and it appears likely that one of the winged cats will fly to America, but not under its own power!
1955 – Melilla, Spanish Morocco
The Alton Evening Telegraph, March 28, 1955 reported “Melilla, Spanish Morocco, has a winged cat. It is an angora which has sprouted ‘wings’. What's more, the cat can move its wings, observers insist. Although it can't fly yet, its owner explains that so far the cat is only 10 months old.”
Verdict: Angora-type cat with matted fur.
1959 – Thomas/Mitzi, West Virginia
The tale of Thomas the winged cat ran for months in the press and was widely reported. It began on June 5th, 1959 when various papers reported “Pineville, W. Va. A lot of things have come out of the West Virginia hills, but hardly anything like this before. A cat with wings. Well, they’re not real wings maybe. Thomas – that’s the cat’s name even if she is a girl – can’t fly. At least she hasn’t so far. But they sure look like wings.”
Doug Shelton, a 15 year old high school freshman, had been walking through the woods several days before the date of the report when he heard some yapping. He saw that his dog had treed something. Curious, Doug climbed up the tree for a look and found a cat with what looked for all the world like wings. Doug tucked the cat under his arm, shooed his dog away, and took the home where she caused a small sensation. His neighbours in the small southern West Virginia community got a kick out of having a winged cat. They measured her wings as each being approximately nine inches long. For her part, Thomas went along with the attention, eating table scraps and choice bits of fish just like any other cat. Only when she got her dander up about something did the wings would sort of spread out like a hawk diving for a pullet, presumably as the rest of her fur bristled.
Doug very soon had two offers for Thomas, one of $300 and another of $50. There was also an attempt to steal the cat. He said he wouldn’t part with Thomas for any amount of money because he loved her. He charged 10 cents a head for anybody that wants to see the cat and had received around 70 paying visitors in just a few days. At first he kept Thomas in a cage, but he became afraid she might hurt herself in such small quarters so Thomas was given the run of the family smokehouse, an out-building about 10x15 feet in size.
Thomas was a long-haired cat, described as looking much like a light-coloured Persian. The wings had no bones but were apparently formed by a cartilage-like growth. A Baltimore veterinarian suggested that perhaps the wings were the result of a freak of nature in trying to grow an extra pair of legs. UPI helpfully furnished more on Friday June 5th, 1959: “The animal has boneless wings that hang from each side of its back, and a tail like a squirrel. [The cat] is about 30 inches long and looks like a cross between a Persian cat and a flying squirrel. Each wing measures more than six inches from root to tip.”
Further reports tell us that “Douglas Shelton, 15, who has possession of the “strangest losing cat in existence,” has received letters this past week from many states, with most of the writers : wanting something. Some of the letters have pennies or dimes enclosed. The writer of one of the letters offered to buy Thomas, the famed 'winged' cat for $50. Doug had already turned down an offer of $500 for Thomas, who is a female. Many of the letters were requests for pictures of the cat. Some -of the letters are addressed to ‘Thomas, the Flying Cat'”
Then on Saturday June 6th, 1959, just 5 days after it was discovered, the winged cat had apparently died: “it was reported that the winged cat had died in its cage: The animal, which had been viewed by more than 2,000 curiosity seekers in the past week was found dead in its cage this morning. The cat, with wings six inches in length and a squirrel like tail, was found dead by Douglas Shelton when he went to feed the animal which he caught in a woods Tuesday.” As it turned out, this report of Thomas’s death from “overhandling” was just an attempt to stop people pestering the Shelton family. A report refuting it hit the media on June 7th, 1959: “Death Report Stemmed From Disgust. In spite of rumors that Thomas the winged cat from Pineville was dead, she is off for New York City and the glamor and excitement of television. Plans are for her to be on Dave Garroway’s Monday program shortly after 7:45 a.m. “
Fern Miniael, Beckley newspaper correspondent at Pineville, talked to Jack Otter, who wrote the interviews for Garroway on US Today program. Otter confirmed that Thomas and his young owner would be on the Monday show. Thomas, in the care of 15 year-old Doug Shelton, left Welch at 6.37 p.m. Saturday on Norfolk and Western Railway train No. 16. They were scheduled to reach in New York at 11:40 a.m. on June 7th. The cat and its young owner were accompanied by Doug’s friend Gary Lee Church, also 15, and chaperoned by Bud Church, 25. Bud and Doug’s expenses were paid by the National Broadcasting Co. Gary's expenses were paid by his father, Boule Church, a Pineville businessman. Thomas’s train fare was $3.67 and the others paid $23.66 each. The N&W had wired ahead to Roanoke and Washington to expedite Thomas’s transportation to New York City.
Plans had been temporarily upset on the Saturday morning when Doug had grown tired of newspaper stories belittling his cat, and his mother was tired of the home being besieged by curiosity seekers. Hence the family had released a story to the effect the cat had died and told a reporter that Doug had gone into the woods to bury it. This was quickly released to newspapers throughout the country before anyone checked its veracity. Shortly before Saturday midday, the Shelton family admitted that the cat was still alive and allowed a reporter to confirm this. Doug had received an offer to show Thomas on a national television show, but initially decided to forget about the offer before changing his mind and taking the train to New York.
The next reports tell us “Mrs. Charles Hicks, who lives not far off, has put forward her claim that Thomas really is a cat she had had for about a year. It was given to her by a woman who bought it in California for $25. Mrs. Hicks explanation for why she waited to speak out was ‘I don’t want any money. At first, that’s why I didn’t want to get Mitzi back. She said that because of this attitude, the cat would be retired completely from public life it is turned over to her.”
The response from Doug Shelton was “They can’t have my cat just by claiming it.” However, Doug was doing just that – claiming the recently found cat was his. Mrs. Charles Hicks then filed suit to obtain possession of the cat from the Coy Shelton family and $25 damages. Mrs. Hicks made it known on June 11th that the cat Doug called “Thomas” was really her “Mitzi.”
According to the Associated Press on June 16th, 1959: “Today, Mrs. Hicks said she had gathered a ball of Mitzi’s while fur from a pump house where her pet used to sleep. She said state police have agreed to analyze it in their Charleston laboratory, provided they can get a sample of fur for comparison from Thomas’ — or Mitzi’s - back. Mrs. Hicks immediately issued a plea to the Shelton family to offer a fur sample. Unimpressed, Coy Shelton, Doug's father, said, “as far as I'm concerned, the cat belongs to my son." With a woman's penchant for the last word. Mrs. Hicks said: “I intend to fight this thing to the last.” With those remarks, it seems that the press was already siding with the Shelton family and depicting Mrs. Hicks as a quarrelsome woman.
The saga of Thomas/Mitzi rumbled on in press reports into July 1959. On July 2nd, Pineville magistrate, W. P. Wilson had just 24 hours in which to decide the disposition of the case. The hearing began at 10 a.m. and lasted until noon. The judgment was widely reported: “Local residents passed the hat around to collect $275 in an effort to keep 15 year-old boy from losing the celebrated cat with wings. Magistrate W. P. Wilson ruled that Mrs. Charles Hicks of Welch ‘proved substantially’ that she was the real owner of the freak found by Pineville High School student Douglas Shelton about a month ago.
The boy said he rescued the cat after his dog chased it up a tree in some woods near his home here. About 10 days after the animal was publicized as a freak cat with wings, Mrs. Hicks laid claim to the animal, saying it had run away from home between here and Welch when she doctored its sore ears. She filed a suit for return of the cat or for $275 when Shelton refused to give it up. Wilson awarded Mrs. Hicks the cat, but right after the hearing, local people started to raise the money so Doug could keep the animal. "The cat will remain in Doug’s possession,” president Earl M. Curry of the Pineville Business Professional Men's Assn., said. Curry pointed out that Pineville had received a lot of favorable publicity as a result of the cat.”
The cat, however, was not handed over. The press carried variations on the following report on July 3rd, 1959 (the day after the court hearing): “Mrs. Hicks Wins Thomas, The Cat. The old nursery rhyme goes “Pussy cat, pussy cat where have you been?” The variation, as unfolded Thursday in the justice of the peace court of W. Preston Wilson, was “Where are you now?” Nobody seemed to know. But that didn't deter Magistrate Wilson from awarding custody of Pineville’s celebrated “winged cat” to Mrs. Charles Hicks. This was viewed as sort of an empty victory, with no cat. There was one hitch. The Magistrate said that if Mrs. Hicks didn't get the cat, she was to be paid $275, the full amount for which she sued.
Mr. and Mrs. Coy Shelton promptly announced they would appeal Wilson's ruling to the Wyoming County Circuit Court A cheering word come from the sidelines. Earl M. Curry Jr., Pineville furniture dealer and president of the Business and Professional Men's Assn., said, "We can’t let the Shelton boy lose the cat." Curry's implication was clearly that if worst came to worst, his association would raise the $275 to pay Mrs. Hicks. Think of the publicity that has come to Pineville.
In case you are thoroughly confused or never heard of Wyoming County's celebrated "winged cat,” here is how the dilemma developed: The Shelton's 15-year-old son, Doug, says he found the animal, which he promptly dubbed "Thomas,” in a tree near his home. It was unusual, indeed, that Doug and his discovery got on a national television show. He collected a harvest of dimes from curious neighbors who wanted to see “Thomas” in the flesh.
About this time, gray-haired Mrs. Hicks, who lives beside the Welch-Pineville road, proclaimed that his was all nonsense and “Thomas,” was in reality her very own “Mitzi" who had wandered off a few days previously. Doug stood fast under threats of being hauled into court. Mrs. Hicks did go to court, with results previously outlined. Only thing, Wilson denied Mrs. Hicks claim for $25 damages. When the question of the cat's whereabouts came up the magistrate ruled it out of order. A rumor went around that “Thomas” was with friends — Doug Shelton's friends, that is — in Michigan. James Lyons of Pineville, attorney for the Sheltons, said he had filed an affidavit with Wilson stating that the cat was not in the state.”
This was not the end of the matter. The Shelton’s refused to hand over the cat and Pineville attorney James C. Lyons, representing Mr. and Mrs. Coy Shelton and their son, Douglas, filed the suit with Wyoming County Circuit Court, asking that Magistrate W. P. Wilson’s ruling be overturned and the white Persian cat be awarded to the Sheltons. Magistrate W. P. Wilson had awarded the cat to Mrs. Charles Hicks and ruled that if Mrs. Hicks didn’t get the cat, which the Sheltons said had been sent out of the state, she was to he paid S275, the full amount for which she sued.
The appeal went to court in October 1959 and news reports from October 5th said that the matter of ownership was resolved. Stories of Thomas were, by then, old news so it gave a history of the case. “Thomas, the famous winged cat was an exhibit in circuit court today sans its wings. Or maybe it was Mitzi. Or maybe it was another cat. At any rate, there was a cat in court. It was there because of a suit brought by Mrs. Mary Hicks to take possession of Thomas or Mitzi, whatever its name is. Mrs. Hicks wanted the cat or $275 in damages. She had brought the suit against Mr. and Mrs. Coy Shelton of Pineville. It was the Shelton’s 15-year-old son, Douglas, who found a cat in the woods last spring. It had wing-like appendages. And Douglas, modern Tom Sawyer that he was, reaped a small fortune on his find. It was a she-cat but Douglas named it Thomas. Folks around here estimated Douglas took in around $2,000 off that cat from exhibitions and television appearances. He charged 10 cents admission to see it. He got a trip to New York and a fee for an appearance on a television show.
Then along came Mrs. Hicks, who lives near here. She claimed the cat was her Mitzi. She filed suit in a magistrate’s court last July. The magistrate gave her custody of the cat. The Shelton’s appealed the case and it wound up today in Wyoming County circuit court, from which there is no further appeal. There was a cat in court but it had no wings. The Sheltons testified that Thomas had shed its wings. They produced balls of fur as evidence. Mrs. Hicks said the cat was not her Mitzi. But in an unusual bit of logic the jury decided Mrs. Hicks should have $1 as a kind of token sympathy award.”
So it seems that Mrs. Hicks was no longer interested in the cat once it had shed the rather profitable mats of fur that had resembled wings. Here’s another account of the finale.
On October 6th, it was reported “young Douglas Shelton still has his cat — the one named Thomas which gained fame as a winged feline, And Mrs. Laura Hicks [note: reported in other papers as Mrs. Mary Hicks] has an extra dollar. But Thomas has lost its wings. At least the cat exhibited by young Doug and his parents Monday in Wyoming Circuit Court had no wings. They explained the cat had shed its wings last July. [note: explaining Thomas’s absence from the news]. Then along came Mrs. Hicks who lives along Pineville-Baileysville Road. She said the cat belonged to her. Only she called it Mitzi. She filed suit in a magistrate’s court last July. The Magistrate gave her custody of the cat. The Sheltons appealed the verdict and it wound up in circuit court where both sides had in effect agreed to accept the jury verdict without making further appeals. There was this cat in court. Was it Thomas? The Sheltons said so. Was it Mitzi? Mrs. Hicks said no. The jury agreed with Mrs. Hicks. They awarded her $1 in damages for her trouble.”
Verdict: Persian/Angora-type cat with matted fur.
1959 – Pittsburgh Winged Cat
On Friday 17th July, there was another widely published report, this time of a winged cat in Pittsburgh. “A winged cat that can’t fly but “sure can run fast” has two Whitaker teenagers pretty much agog. The feline, with wing-like appendages on each shoulder, is the second such animal to be found in the Western Pennsylvania-West Virginia area. A Pineville, W. Va., boy came across one last month.
The latest find has not affected the ruffle of Pittsburgh much, but David Weber, 14, and Joseph Lacey, 15, who came upon the animal Wednesday night are pleased. ‘We whistled and it came to us very friendly like,’ said David. ‘We saw the same cat around the neighborhood before, but we didn’t know it had wings on it.’ Actually, the ‘wings’ are immovable appendages, six to eight inches in length.”
In July 1959 a report was circulated by UPI. “'Winged' Cats Unable To Fly, Curator Says. Freaks Of Nature Are Said To Be Frustrated Twins. A mammal expert maintained today that ‘winged’ cats found recently in Pennsylvania and West Virginia actually were frustrated twins. Caroline Heppenstall, assistant curator of mammals at Carnegie Institute, said the chances of the cats flying are as about as remote as a cow jumping over the moon without the aid of a missile satellite.
The latest winged cat was found here by David Weber, 14, and Joseph Lacey, 15. The animal had appendages jutting from behind its shoulders. They were about eight inches long. A similar cat was found last month near Pineville, W. Va.
‘It is a freak, the result of partial twinning’ Miss Heppenstall explained. ‘You might say the animal started out to be a twin and never quite made the grade.’ She said the wing-like appendages actually were pieces cartilage which probably began as the legs of a twin. The development, she said, is something similar to Siamese twinning in human beings, although slightly different. She compared the winged cats to a two-headed calf, the standby of the old medicine shows. Miss Heppenstall said there was absolutely no chances of the winged cats taking off like Pegasus, the fabled winged horse t of Greek mythology. “Due to the position of the wings and the fact that they have no strength in themselves, the cat has no control over them.”
Dr. William Lebra, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh, professed himself ‘flabbergasted’ by the reports of flying cats. ‘I’ve never heard of a flying cat,’ he said.”
1959 – Lemont Winged Cat
In The Morning herald of July 24, 1959, we have “A ‘winged cat’ similar to one reported in West Virginia was seen in Lemont, a district couple said. Mr. and Mrs. George Swetz, Oliver 1, said they were en route to Lemont Wednesday night to the home of their daughter, Mrs. Joan Danko, when the ‘cat,’ dark brown in color and of average size ran along in front of the headlights for some distance. Mrs Swetz declares she could not have been mistaken. She said its ‘wings about four inches long extended from its shoulders and flapped as it rapidly covered ground.’ "
1959 – Mrs Dancy’s Winged Cat Tom, Oak Hill, Fayette County, West Virginia
Cat Sheds ‘Wings’ (Beckley Post Herald, 3rd September, 1959),
“Oak Hill. Apparently “Tom” the Fayette County "winged cat” did not care for the prospect of going through life with the unusual formations attached to his body. So, a few weeks ago, he went into the garden and shed one of them which was found by his owner, Mrs. Clyde Dancy. She said he also shed the other one but they never found it. Mrs. Dancy said upon examining the one found in the garden that it felt like a mass of fur. She said Tom was not born with the fur masses resembling wings and that he is getting prettier since shedding them.”
Verdict: cat with matted fur.
1960s. Trafford Park, Manchester, England
In 1975, the Manchester Evening News published a photograph of a winged cat which had lived in Banister Walton & Co builder's yard at Trafford Park, Manchester, England during the 1960s. The cat had a pair of long fluffy wings (11 inches/29 cm)projecting from its back and the skin of its tail had flattened into a broad flap. According to some of the men working in the yard at that time, the cat could even raise its wings above its body, suggesting a deformity which contained muscle as well as flaps of skin.
1966. Alfred, Ontario, Canada
In 1966, a winged cat said to be swooping down on farm animals and attacking other cats was shot dead at Alfred, Ontario, Canada and buried but was exhumed several days later for examination by scientists at Kemptville Agricultural School. Their conclusion was that the cat's "wings" were nothing more than matted fur. The cat was also found to have had rabies which would account for its strange behaviour.
1967. Matted winged cat, Cecily Waddon, UK
In the October/November 1967 issue of "The Cat", Cecily Waddon wrote "May I appeal to anyone thinking of having a cat, not to choose a long haired one unless they are prepared to spend about ten minutes a day on grooming throughout the cat's life? I recently had brought to me one with fur not only matted solid all over its body, but with felt-like wings the size of my hand, growing outwards." The two photos here show a Persian with the beginnings of "wings" caused by felt-like lumps of matted fur. When the cat moved, the wings did indeed flap!
1970. Wallingford, Connecticut
In 1970, J A Sandford of Wallingford, Connecticut saw a winged cat in a neighbour's garden. The orange-and-white longhaired cat was "positively waddling due to large wing-like growths hanging from its midsection". The owner explained that this was the way it shed their fur in summer. Sandford noted that the fur was indeed matted forming rectangular pads about 5 inches long by 4 inches wide. Although Shuker (Lost Ark Forum, Fortean Times 168) described this as a textbook example of Feline Cutaneous Asthenia (see next section), it is a textbook case of a badly matted longhair cat such as are regularly seen by vets and as described by Ms Waddon in 1967. I personally have seen large mats causing longhaired cats to waddle exactly as Sandford describes. Any Persian owner will tell you just how quickly a longhaired cat's fur forms into felted mats if left ungroomed. By contrast, in Feline Cutaneous Asthenia, skin and connective tissue are also involved in the wings.
Verdict: Matted fur resembling wings.
Cats With Wings (Manchester Guardian, February 8th, 1951). ‘What an Excellent topic for “escapist" correspondence, one that swings the reader right away from fuel crises and international complications, has been offered by a letter in the “Sunday Times" which began: “I was interested to read in your columns that cats with wings are known In Spain." >And, lest Franco should feel himself a little more pleased than ever by the possession of such an oddity, the writer went on to announce that more than fifty years ago there was a photograph in the “Strand Magazine” of a cat with wings that was owned by a lady in Somerset. Unfortunately, the wings of the Somerset cat, though elegantly covered with fur, were “obviously too small and weak for flight".
A reader has now sent us cuttings showing photographs of a winged cat that appeared at Sheffield In 1949; it beat the Somerset specimen by having four fur-covered “wings” sprouting from its back, two of seven inches long and two of three inches. In the photographs they look like abnormally large ears. Spurred on by these disclosures, another Sheffield resident reported herself as the owner of a cat (unphotographed) which had died a few weeks earlier but which In 1939 “grew a pair of wings that developed to ten inches long" and from then onwards “grew new, wings every six or seven months". Chesterfield also reported a tom cat "with long sinewy wings which enabled it to jump from high windows and walls"; it had “died some months ago". Apparently none of these cats actually flew, but their appendages allowed them to bounce around with astonishing leaps and jumps.”
Verdict: The bloodless shedding of the wings every six or seven months falls in with the moulting interval of cats; the wings of such cats would have been matted fur.