FROM THE VAULT: Cats and bears, oh my!

On the morning of Jan. 29, 1855, the ship Favorite, a cargo vessel out of New Orleans heading for Boston, ran aground near Baker’s Island.

According to one newspaper article, the crew was rescued by quick-acting Marbleheaders. The cargo and vessel were a complete loss, however.

The painted iron cathead recovered from the wreck of the Favorite in 1855. COURTESY PHOTO / MARBLEHEAD MUSEUM

One piece that survived and was likely scavenged by the rescuers or later salvagers was a cast iron cathead. A cathead is a large wooden beam that comes out at an angle from either side of the bow of a sailing ship. The beam is used to support the ship’s anchor when weighing or lowering it. Many of these beams had cats’ or lions’ heads carved at the end or, as with this example, iron heads attached to the wood. This example is elaborately painted to better resemble a real cat.

However, according to reports, our “cat” wasn’t the only animal on board the Favorite. On Feb. 8, 1855, the New York Daily Times reprinted a story from the Boston Journal. A rescue vessel sent from Boston arrived at the wreck after the crew had been taken off. On board remained a bear the crew had abandoned! As the ship’s captain approached the animal, the bear “saluted with a hearty stroke from his paw.” He showed no sign of aggression and “allowed himself to be taken to more comfortable quarters on board the steamer,” which brought the bear safely back to Boston.

Since it was donated to the Marblehead Museum in 1916, the cathead has been on display in the Jeremiah Lee Mansion.

Lauren McCormack
executive director at Marblehead Museum | Website | + posts

Lauren McCormack is the executive director of the Marblehead Museum

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: