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"It's still full of cats in there."

Jan 23, 2012 10:36 AM | 0 comments

Details from a photograph of Red Hook's greased-up toughs battling cops with pop guns?

Little Dodger fans unhappy to find a heap of Preacher Roe's stinky socks?

 A dare-devil pilot heading towards his experimental plane at Floyd Bennet Field?

Or none of those things? Well, if you said none of those things you'd be right. All of these details come from the same photo, and one which, when I happened upon it, struck me as deeply mysterious. The last detail, below, which occasioned the convergence of all these Brooklynites doesn't help to clear up the riddle either, unless of course, you look a little closer.

The ASPCA stencil gives it away -- those crates are full of cats. And on August 28, 1950, John Joule, an agent for the ASPCA, was charged with the unenviable task of clearing out 40 or so of those little critters from a cramped store front where they'd been abandoned. Here's the complete photo of Joule at work.

The story of the cat rescue ran on the front page of that day's Eagle, just beneath a photo of a dozen or so North Korean prisoners of war lined up for food at a P.O.W. camp in Busan. In fact, but for short notices about a Himalayan earthquake, and a fire in a Montreal nightclub, the only other articles free of jingoistic Red scare patter and reports from the front in Korea are pieces about the difficulties a newly transplanted Hollywood starlet, Lisa Kirk, found in being faithful to her husband, and the work of John Joule, Brooklyn cat catcher.  

The subject headings in our catalog for this photo include: Cats and Gas masks. I think it's the only instance where these two headings appear together in the same catalog record.

Joule and his partner,  John Stizel, were indeed feline pretty bad. As the Eagle reported, after kicking-in the soaped over glass door at 222 St.Mark's Avenue, Joule and Stizel quickly slammed it shut again when they got a whiff of the cats' punishing odor. After donning a gas mask, and filling the 8 crates they had brought along, Joule was quoted as saying: "We need reinforcements. It's still full of cats in there." Once the extra crates arrived and were filled, Joule and Stizel took the cats back to 233 Butler St., where the ASPCA's shelter was located. What to do with the cats was solved, but where the cat owners were was another question. Landlord Claude Aulicino hadn't seen the elderly couple since he first rented them the storefront, a few months prior to the cat extraction, when they had paid two months rent in advance, and told Aulicino they'd be using the space to manufacture fire extinguishers.

As for Joule, it was just another day on the job. And as this 1931 image of him rescuing a cat at 1551 E. 10th St. attests, it was just another day on the job of a very long cat-catching career.