The Cat Who Lived in the Museum

You are here –> 1960s-1970s

It was a distinctly different time at Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate, the historic house museum…

One highlight of visiting Ashland in the 1960s and ’70s was Gypsy the calico cat. She came to Ashland as a stray in 1962 when Director Lorraine Seay took her in.  Gypsy lived for fourteen years in the mansion and became quite well-known.  Seay in 1973 told the Louisville Courier-Journal that “people…are disappointed if Gypsy does not meet them at the door…”

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Mrs. Seay thought of Gypsy as a person and a Clay relative (“She must be related to Henry Clay because he was such a charmer”).  Seay dubbed her the “Assistant Curator”  and gave her her own special chair by Mrs. Seay’s desk.  Gypsy would go home with her every night.

Every day at Ashland, Gypsy followed tours through the house and would “tug at the draperies” for attention, distracting visitors.  “I’d lose them,” Mrs. Seay said of her tour groups, “they would want to know about the cat.”  After the tour, Gypsy’s picture postcard was the largest selling item in the gift shop.  Gypsy was also the subject of the 1964 book, “The Cat Who Lives at Ashland” by Louisiana Wood Simpson — also a popular item.

But this living novelty — as Mrs. Seay called her, “‘Henry Clay’s cat ‘in her ninth life’”—was undeniably good for attendance.  Mrs. Seay told Southern Living in 1968 that Gypsy served as surprise entertainment for “people who may have thought they were just going to tour the 157-year-old home of the distinguished Kentucky statesman.”

Gypsy lived a long ninth life and sadly died in 1976.  Her distraught fans raised money for a small tombstone, erected where the popular cat was buried, under the larch tree on the front lawn, as if she had been a member of the Clay family all along.

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