Published in 1867 by Clara Barnes Martins to benefit a local church, “The Story of Muff” describes one family’s harrowing efforts to save the family cat.
Muff is introduced as “a great, gray cat, with broad white bosom, and such dainty white gloves and slippers.”
An 1867 book told the story of Muff the Cat’s narrow escape from Portland’s Great Fire. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer. Courtesy of Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr.
As the Great Fire of 1866 bears down on the home on the eastern portion of the city, the Vaughn family scrambles to escape. First, they place Muff in a china closet, but the wagon secured to move it is too frail to bear the load. So, a handkerchief was wrapped around Muff’s head, and Rob, “a strong boy of his age,” attempted to carry the cat to safety.
By then, burning fragments of wood were falling from the sky, as people filled the streets trying to escape. A young girl following the fleeing family caught on fire, so the family stopped to extinguish her. At that moment, Muff escaped, bloodying the arms of his would-be savior, and fled to the family’s home, “gone to certain death!”
Or so they thought.
The day after the fire, a couple of family members surveyed the ruins of the home. They were sifting through the ashes and rubble for family heirlooms, when they saw something move.
“It was Muff himself! Yet, how changed, his look, how altered, his mien! – his glossy coat all rent and torn, his white gloves and slippers, all black and scorched, and one fore-foot, he scarcely touched to the ground, as he walked. Through what terrors untold, had not the poor fellow come? – terrors of blinding light, and drifting smoke – of burning heat, and deep darkness – of hurrying crowds – and of lonesome streets – led by the strange instinct, that bound him to his home – come to at last, that home, a ruin!”
The family nursed Muff backed to good health.
“When October’s leaves were brightest, Aunt Mary took Muff to a new home, which the tenderest love had been preparing for her.”
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