Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1997]
Origins: Recent versions of this story often place it at the West Edmonton Mall in Canada or the Mall of America in the United States. In those incarnations the action supposedly takes place in the parking lot, where a Good Samaritan places the deceased beastie in a shopping bag, then retreats to her own car to watch so she'll be on hand to give an explanation when the cat's owner returns. Another woman comes along, filches the bag, and gets it back to her own car, where she opens it and is seen fainting dead away once she catches sight of her
Now I'm going to ruin your day by telling you it never happened. Not only that, dead-cats-in-package stories are as old as the hills (one even turned up in a 1904
In a closely-related version, the woman takes the subway with her soon-to-be-buried cat, but this time the beastie is in a suitcase. While the woman is struggling up the steep stairs, a nice young boy offers to carry the suitcase up for her. She gratefully hands over the bag, and he hares off with dead Fluffy. (In this version you're left to imagine the lad's reaction when he pries it open.)
The following tale of one man's efforts to track down this story comes out of David Jacobson's 1948 book, The Affairs of Dame Rumor:
Along the way home, the woman stopped to do some shopping at Stern's department store on
Stern's detectives began searching the store for the packaged body of the cat. Within a short time they found it. The opened box, the deceased animal leering out of it, was on the floor of a telephone booth. Alongside there lay the body of a woman, immediately identified as a well-known shoplifter who had been under the scrutiny of this and other stores for several months. The shoplifter had apparently taken her loot to the telephone booth, opened it, caught a glimpse of the dead cat, and dropped to the floor dead of a heart attack resulting from fright.
His friend, the newspaperman learned, got the rumor about this macabre justice from two actors who lived in the neighboring apartment. The two knew the full truth of the story, according to the friend. Yet, interviewing the actors, the journalist found they had received the tale from a Christian Science practitioner, a man whose word they did not doubt as he had told them the rumor as gospel.
The Christian Science practitioner willingly repeated this gospel before the newspaperman, adding that he had heard it from a woman. She was the friend of the dead cat's owner. She would give him the names of all the people involved.
And, to be sure, this woman was full of the dead-cat wonder, according to the
Not that she actually knew the name of the animal's owner. But she had heard the rumor from her son-in-law, who knew all about it. "He turned out to know everything about it," the newspaperman reported. "He had heard the story firsthand from a passenger on a commuters' train whose aunt knew the lady who owned the dead cat."
Still curious about the rumor, the newspaperman went to Stern's department store. There a somewhat firm, if not angered, chief detective swiftly assured him that nothing of the sort had happened. Neither had the local police station any record of either a dead shoplifter or a dead cat having been reported.
While the newspaperman was playing ring-around-a-rosy with the Dead-Cat-Come-to-Justice rumor, it was having a gay time of its own. It was flying from table to table, from office to office on its cross-country journey. Readjusted to fit the local situation in Chicago, the rumor was an eye-opener, months later, when it became current talk. In California, the following year, people gasped in amazement as they heard about the fate of the shoplifter in the local department store. And at least one national magazine published the rumor as one of its truth-is-stranger-than-fiction features for the edification of the wonder-lovers among its loyal subscribers.
Sightings: The 1981 Yevgeny Yevtushenko novel Wild Berries relates a "switched packages on a commuter train" version.
Last updated: 19 July 2011
Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Baby Train. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993. ISBN 0-393-31208-9 (pp. 20-22, 245-246). Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Choking Doberman. New York: W. W. Norton, 1984. ISBN 0-393-30321-7 (pp. 216-219). Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Mexican Pet. New York: W. W. Norton, 1986. ISBN 0-393-30542-2 (pp. 31-34). Brunvand, Jan Harold. Too Good To Be True. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999. ISBN 0-393-04734-2 (pp. 63-65, 74-76). Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Vanishing Hitchhiker. New York: W. W. Norton, 1981. ISBN 0-393-95169-3 (pp. 103-112). de Vos, Gail. Tales, Rumors and Gossip. Englewood: Libraries Unlimited, 1996. ISBN 1-56308-190-3 (pp. 158, 164-169). Dorson, Richard. American Folklore. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1959 (pp. 253-254). Harrison, Paul. "In New York." The Fitchburg [Massachusetts] Sentinel. 23 October 1933 (p. 6). Jacobson, David J. The Affairs of Dame Rumor. New York: Rinehart & Company, 1948 (pp. 44-46). Scott, Bill. Pelicans & Chihuahuas and Other Urban Legends. St. Lucia, Queensland: Univ. of Queensland, 1996. ISBN 0-7022-2774-9 (p. 64). Smith, Paul. The Book of Nastier Legends. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986. ISBN 0-7102-0573-2 (p. 88).
Also told in:
Healey, Phil and Rick Glanvill. Now! That's What I Call Urban Myths. London: Virgin Books, 1996. ISBN 0-86369-969-3 (pp. 113-114). Holt, David and Bill Mooney. Spiders in the Hairdo. Little Rock: August House, 1999. ISBN 0-87483-525-9 (pp. 92-93). Schwartz, Alvin. More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. New York: HarperCollins, 1984. ISBN 0-397-32081-7 (pp. 52-53). The Big Book of Urban Legends. New York: Paradox Press, 1994. ISBN 1-56389-165-4 (pp. 42-43).