Saturday, February 21, 2009

Black Cat of Anarchy

Twenty years ago I wrote a play about the “Everett Massacre.” (It’s the subject of another posting). In short, on November 5, 1916, there was an armed confrontation between city officials and members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The IWW were also know as “Wobblies.”

The Wobblies were “one-world” idealists professing solidarity with workers of all nations. Their goals included the dissolution of capitalism, employers, management and all the rest. No doubt there was a connection to Russia’s Marxists and Leninists, but the US Wobblies seemed to be more like anarchists.

In theory “anarchy” suggests the absence of all direct or coercive government as the political ideal, and proposes cooperative and voluntary association of individuals and groups. That sounds fine. As a practical matter however, “anarchy” suggests confusion, disorder and chaos. That seems to be its reality, too.

Anyway, while doing research for the play I noticed that the black cat had been adopted by the Wobblies as their mascot.

It seems the black cat is also called the “wild cat” or “sabot cat.” The Wobblies were no strangers to labor violence, and there was some use of company-busting “sabotage.” A “Wobbly” named Ralph Chaplin is credited with the design.

One story about the origin of the black cat symbol is that a IWW strike was going badly, with beaten members hospitalized. About that time a skinny black cat wandered into the strikers’ camp. It was fed by the striking workers, and as the cat regained its health events looked better to the Wobblies. Eventually the striking workers got some of their demands and they adopted the cat as their mascot.

There was a lumber and hardware store in Arlington Washington called “Copeland Lumber” which had orange buildings and a sign which featured the black cat of anarchy. I don’t know the history of that sign—I believe there were other Copeland Lumber stores. Perhaps there is an historical connection between the mill-working Wobblies and the lumber store.

Yet, well before the Wobblies appointed the black
cat to be the symbol of disorder and chaos, the black cat had long been associated with witchcraft and the dark side.

American short story writer Edgar Allen Poe (1809 – 1849) wrote a short story called “The Black Cat.” Poe wrote that his wife got a black cat for them. It was . . .

“. . . a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black, and sagacious to an astonishing degree. In speaking of his intelligence, my wife, who at heart was not a little tinctured with superstition, made frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion, which regarded all black cats as witches in disguise. "

"One night, returning home, much intoxicated, from one of my haunts about town, I fancied that the cat avoided my presence. I seized him, when in his fright at my violence, he inflicted a slight wound upon my hand with his teeth. The fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer. My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body, and a more than fiendish malevolence, gin-nurtured, thrilled every fibre of my frame. I took from my waistcoat-pocket a pen-knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity. "

Well, I can only hope that Poe’s story was not autobiographical. Poe did not soften the part of the black cat in the rest of the story, which of course caused him a lot of revenge and stress.

Maybe the Wobblies just wanted a little more sinister version of other black cats who were popular at the same time—

“Felix the Cat” (on the left) is a black cat cartoon character created in the silent-film era. He was pretty popular in the 1920s. Krazy Kat” (on the right) was also a popular newspaper black cat cartoon strip character between 1913 and 1944.

“Fritz the Cat” was a popular underground comic book cartoon character in the 1960s. Fritz was "glib, smooth and self-assured.” In 1972, Fritz starred in his own movie called “Fritz the Cat.” Cartoonist Robert Crumb, who created Fritz, did not like the way Fritz was portrayed in the film and reportedly decided to have Fritz “killed” in the comic strip-- After recording a television appearance, Fritz is approached by a neurotic ex-girlfriend of his, who urges him to have sex with her. At her apartment, he ignores her as he watches the television show, despite her repeatedly threatening to commit suicide. When the show is over, Fritz gives her a kick in the pants before leaving. As he walks out of the apartment, she stabs him in the back of the head with an icepick. After having killed off Fritz, Crumb never drew another story featuring the character.

The evolution of the cartoon black cat has resulted in the sexy female version, of course, but still somewhat out of society’s mainstream--

“Black Cat” is a Marvel Comics anti-hero who has been an ex-girlfriend of Spider-Man. Black Cat should not be confused with Cat Woman,” who is associated with DC Comics. Cat Woman has been one of Batman’s most enduring love interests, occasionally depicted as his one “true love.”

And, finally, is it any surprise that the evolution of the black cat of anarchy would result in a child's toy, still looking like a sinister trouble-maker?

Order out of chaos and anarchy.


  1. Anyone who has tripped over a cat in the dark can agree that these are dangerous animals.

  2. I know a thing or two about the Copeland Lumber store--there was another one in my hometown. Their logo comes from the International Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo (no bull). The fraternal order was founded by businessman working in the forest industry. Copeland Lumber uses a logo that is nearly identical to the fraternity's logo. The Hoo-Hoo was founded in 1892, a little more than ten years before the Wobblies, so I don't believe their symbol is affiliated with it or any kind of anarchy. Hope that's helpful.

  3. Stumbled across your site via . Here's what I posted there :
    Good work ! I too have been rather captivated by the orange and black Copeland Lumber cat . It definately is an iconic logo for those of us that grew up in Oregon . I've attempted to get in touch with them a couple of times over recent years to ask if they do t-shirts and bumperstickers and more recently to ask if they had corporate car door stickers to put on the doors anf tailgate of my orange and black ( by coincidence ) '77 F100 . Never did get a reply . Might just go ahead and replicate the logo anyway . Thanks for the info on The International Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo .Never heard of them before , but it seems fairly obvious that that may well be the origin of the CL cat . I also have an interest in those fraternal orders . One whose existence I stumbled across was the Catenian Association , which is basically the catholic church's version of the 'Masons . I started noticing this symbol in the obits column of our local paper , especially after the death of an associate of a former prmier of western australia who has been dogged by allegations of corruption ( just being harrassed by a rival faction ) . See here for their logo : . When I started researching them locally , they seemed eager to sign me up until they found out that I wasn't catholic . Look for them in a diocese near you .
    What's a Hoo-Hoo
    Never mind whence came the name - what is it? Who is it? It's a catchy name Hoo-Hoo is and when you tack "concatenated" onto it, well, it gets catchier still. Concatenated is a legitimate dictionary work meaning "linked together", but you did not know that until somebody told you.
    Now "international" is a different kind of word. You do not have to explain that word to the president of the bank, your local chamber of commerce, your elected representative - they know what it means. It tells them something. It communicates. When you first call someone on the telephone, who may be unfamiliar with your club, what do you communicate? Do you represent yourself as a member of the local chapter or a lumberman's fraternity? Do you mention that your lumbermen's club is part of a group that has members in five countries on three continents? If you do, then you are telling them something that they understand. They can picture your organization. Then, when you say your club is part of the International Order of Hoo-Hoo, you can expect an interest and curiosity as to whence came the name but, you will have already established what it is and who you are. Your creditability and legitimacy will not be the question - that has already been communicated.
    How about your club letterhead? Does it have "Fraternal Order of the Forest Products Industry" somewhere on the page? Is there any reference to the lumber or forest industry in the name of your club? Your club is the lumberman's club in your town, so why not say so. Hoo-Hoo is a name that means nothing to someone who does not know what it is or who it is. You have a responsibility to identify yourself as part of this unique lumberman's fraternity. Do this and the people of your community will be aware that there exists a group of lumber people in their area with a unique name who are part of one of the oldest industrial fraternities in the United States - the International Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo.

    Remember - what the name is, what it stands for, is more important than where it came from.

    1. Oh , just noticed that my Google nom de plume seems to have been corrupted . Should be : D351L5 P3N15 I don't know where the & # 3 9 ; S came from . Some kind of behind the scenes intervention , no doubt . I've now corrected it , let's see if it stays that way .