The True Story of Room 8, the Elementary School Cat

How do you describe a cat? Playful and active but marathon sleepers? Afraid of their own shadow but fearless in defense? Aggressive when they want or need but aloof when they desire to be alone? Vindictive? Love to cuddle but only on their own terms? The truth is, a cat is a mixed bag of all of these things and more. They are fiercely independent, picky, purposefully revengeful, aloof furry bundles of needy, clingy, in-your-face, loving, family obsessed wonderful. The truth be told, you never know what a cat is thinking or what they will do next. It’s one of the greatest part of sharing your life with a feline, the unpredictable behavior. From big cats in the jungle to your house cat buddy, most cats have the same instincts and actions built into their DNA.

On today’s #FreddieSez we will take a deep dive into the story of a cat that adopted a school. It’s a true life story that covered a span of time from 1952 until the felines death. However, this story is more than a tale of a mysterious cat and his obsession to watch over children he had adopted, it is an example of love that grew, flourished and continued long after the feline passed away in 1968. This is the story of Room 8, the cat who loved an elementary school but was loved, in return, by an entire community.

Much of this story, prior to the first recorded appearance at an elementary school, is a mystery. Some tell an unverified story that the cat was born in 1947, lived life in a home with a family, but was mistreated by a boarder in the home and escaped the mistreatment to live off the land. He lived off what he could catch or scrounge from trashcans or handouts he received from strangers. He was a tabby cat, seemly healthy and well adjusted to humans when he arrived at the school, unknown and quite uninvited.

In the 1950’s, Elysian Heights Elementary school was not unique by any means. It was your standard early grade learning facility with classrooms, a lunchroom, activity area and playground. The school ran on a short, but defined, set of rules that are much different than contemporary schools of today. Students at the school knew the policies in place, no running in the halls, treat others with respect, raise your hand before speaking, don’t talk during lessons unless called upon, take turns on the playground equipment and listen to your teacher. However, Elysian Heights had one additional rule, very unique and specific to their location, one that everyone knew and respected… “THE RULE” as it was known was put on the books shortly after the arrival of the school tabby… “Don’t bother the cat.”

Room 8 looking over his fan mail at Elysian Heights School on September 14, 1964. (Photo: Art Worden/Herald-Examiner Collection /LAPL Archive).During the school year of 1952, on one normal morning, a cat walked in through the front door. Being quite remarkable and unexpected, he started to roam the hallways, going in and out of different classrooms. This gray and white cat was not remarkable, outside of his friendly behavior to all he met. The cat jumped on desks, allowed himself to be held and petted, then moved on to the next room and opportunity. Members of the faculty would later comment that he was the skinniest cat they had ever seen. When the children went out for their recess period, they returned to find the cat rummaging through their lunches. Amused by his persistence, the children gave him some bites from their lunches and milk.

When lunch time came, the children went to the school cafeteria and the cat followed them. Even more children fed him bits and samples of their lunches. The students were amazed and amused as the cat “ate and ate and ate” from their handouts. After he had sampled his limit the cat turned, walked out the front door, through the playground and out the front gate. As he vanished from sight, the children thought they had seen the last of their unexpected visitor. But this was just the start of what would be a lifelong connection between cat, children and the school.

The very next morning, the children arrived for school, only to find the same tabby cat waiting for them. After a welcoming bit of affection and love, the cat walked with them through the front door and into the classroom he had first visited the day before. The teacher attempted to remove the cat but the students objected and pleaded for him to be allowed to stay for awhile. The teacher agreed but insisted that the animal needed a name other than “the cat.” After many suggestions and much debate, the students decided to name him after the classroom the cat first visited and spent the majority of his time. From that moment forward, the stray that had become a permanent fixture in the school was known as “Room 8.”

The same routine was followed daily, the cat would appear in the morning, spend the day, and then leave with them, disappearing till the next day. Even when some children attempted to follow him, Room 8 would somehow vanish and not been seen until the next morning. At the end of the school year, the students would bid farewell to their school cat and not see him till the start of the next school year. Nobody knew where he went, or how he survived a hot California summer without them… but he returned like clockwork every fall to be with them and resume his duties as the school cat. Eventually, Room 8 was named the official mascot of the elementary school and held that title as long as he lived. As people talked about the amazing cat and his mysterious connection to the school, his fame started to spread and grow. Local news reported on the story, eventually they camped out in front of the school and waited for his return each fall as the new year started. Room 8 became as much a part of the school as the daily routine of recess, lunch and lessons. He was never aggressive, never ill tempered or an issue. However, should any of the students decide to tease, test or pester the cat, they were sent to the principals office for a reminder of “THE RULE” and expectation of how to treat Room 8. The tabby became an unofficial member of staff, dining in the facility lounge daily with the teachers. In fact, the position of “Cat Monitor” was created and filled by one student for a year. This was not an elected or voted on responsibility, the student was chosen by the teachers and was paid for their efforts by being the student who held Room 8 in the yearly class picture. Everyone wanted to be “Cat Monitor” and have the honor of being photographed holding their mascot.

As the cats fame grew from local to statewide to NATIONAL news, the principal and a few teachers wrote a biography of the cat called “Room 8: the School Cat” that was published in 1966. Look magazine published a multi-page article and Room 8 started to make personal appearances at cat shows or cat themed gatherings, he was truly a celebrity. In 1967 the “Weekly Reader” magazine featured a short article about him, and that write-up lead to appearances on the Art Linkletter show “House Party.”

The school decided to assure that Room 8 would never be forgotten, so they embedded his paw prints in wet cement at the front of the school, which are still there today. Often the school would be overrun with mail delivered to their cat from all over the country. It was documented that Room 8 received mail from 47 states at a rate of about 30 letters a month. The record for mail was 100 letters in one day, all addressed to Room 8 in care of the school. Some of the older students in the more advanced grades would be chosen to be “secretaries” to the cat and handle his mail and the replies. Each letter was answered with a personal message from Room 8 and a rubber stamping of his paw print. Keep in mind that there was no email or computers, so everything was done on a typewriter and by hand. Working as an assistant to Room 8 was an honor and helped teach some basic skills and responsibility to the chosen children.

Living the life of a nomad cat who adopted a daytime home was not always easy. Room 8 had several health scares along his adventurous life. In 1963 he was injured in a cat fight, he caught pneumonia the next year that nearly killed him. The school took him for yearly exams and wellness appointments at the local veterinarian. He always bounced back from illness, always was his normal Room 8 self. As he aged, he lost teeth and the facility could see signs of growing older in the cat.  However, with age, he seemed to enjoy attention and companionship even more. He continued to sleep in sunny spots and visit the classrooms, eat his meals with the teachers and socializing with the students. When Elysian Heights Elementary opened summer school in 1962, Room 8 came to the school daily to be with his adopted family. He took the job of watching over the children seriously.

During a summer school session in 1968, Room 8 showed signs of illness. That sickness progressed and lingered throughout most of the summer, but the cat showed up daily to do his job and watch over the classrooms. On August 13th of that year, Room 8 was taken to the Animal Hospital where he passed away at the age of 22 from kidney failure. 22 years is a long life for any cat and is equivalent to age 154 in human years. The grand old man of Elysian Height Elementary School would no longer roam the hall, nap or dine with his people, and the entire community felt that loss. The Los Angeles times wrote a touching obituary for Room 8 that was three columns wide and featured a picture of the schools gray and white tabby cat. Room 8 was laid to rest at the Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park, home to Hollywood celebrities pets and famous animals from the sporting and entertainment world. His funeral was attended by many and was preceded by a procession of cars from the school to his viewing and burial. From street cat to celebrity, Room 8 had been loved by all that knew him.

Later, as adults, some of the students helped to solve the mystery of where Room 8 went and how he survived when school was not in session. Individuals came forward and told stories of Room 8 showing up and living with them in the summers, becoming a member of their family from June till September. He often slept outdoors, in gardens or hidden areas of their yards. Perhaps that was a reminder of his life before attending school, or an assurance he would be up and able to get to the school for his daily duties. There is some comfort in knowing that he was taken care of in the summers by people who loved him.

The legend of Room 8 doesn’t end at his death. In fact, it continues today. To give some examples of how long this run of the mill tabby cat’s reach had become;
  • After his death in 1968, children from the school donated $20 a piece (a tidy sum at that time) to establish a “Room 8 Memorial Fund” at the Orthopedic Hospital. There was a memorial created at the hospital that features a picture, plaque and the story of Room 8. Donations poured into the fund, as it reached over $10,000, which paid for a considerable amount of care in 1968 money.

  • One of the school teachers founded the “Room 8 Memorial Cat Foundation” which started in 1972. This no kill shelter still exists today and is funded by donations from the public.

  • You can locate Room 8 and his final resting place in the “Find a Grave” website. It has over 300 messages from former students and the general public who have read his story or followed his unusual life.

  • Room 8 is now memorialized at Elysian Heights School with a plaque, concrete letters of his name, a message and his paw prints in the cement in front of the school that are still visited by children today who leave him notes and gifts. There is a mosaic mural outside of the school with his likeness and a bronze statue. He is never forgotten and his image still oversees the school and their students.

  • You can still find videos and pictures of Room 8 on YouTube, Bing and other web browsing sites.

  • Leo Kottke wrote an instrumental song called “Room 8” that is on his 1971 album.

  • The book, “A Cat called Room 8” was published in 1966 and was sold to students at the school for $2.50 a copy. This book had six printings and copies can still be found at vintage book stores and a few libraries.

  • More than 50 years after his death, Room 8 has been the subject of podcasts, news articles and news reporting. Not bad for an abandoned cat who wandered into a school hungry and alone.

That concludes the amazing story of Room 8. In many ways he was “just a cat” who found his place in the world by accident and necessity. Somewhere along the way he developed an attachment to the people and location that had helped him when he needed it the most, becoming their mascot and friend. Don’t we all hope for the same, a place to call home and people who love us for who we are.

That is our segment for this week. We hope you were as intrigued and inspired with the story of Room 8 as we were when we found it. Have a great week and be safe, happy and make a difference in an animals life by helping those who cannot help themselves.  We’ll write to you next week so you can find out what #FreddieSez.

To read and see more about Room 8, visit these sites;

Room 8 – Wikipedia

Room 8, The Cat That Adopted An Echo Park School, Died 50 Years Ago Today | LAist

Explore Historic California–May 2008   Room 8,  the Most Famous Cat in Los Angeles (