Austin Bell’s new book details the life of the Key Marco Cat


The title of Austin Bell’s book sets out his thesis. “The Nine Lives of Florida’s Famous Key Marco Cat” delves into the history of all that is known about the Key Marco Cat, and follows it from its origins in the mist to its current living quarters in Marco Island Historical Museum.

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Bell is the curator of the Marco Island Historical Society’s collections, and his office is just steps from the temperature, humidity and vibration controlled enclosure where the cat sits in a specially prepared safe, assisted by security guards and exposed to thousands of people. visitors. The continued fascination of residents and visitors to Marco Island, as well as history buffs, museum buffs and cat lovers across the country have helped “put Marco Island on the map”.

Bell said his book is about “solving mysteries,” filling in the gaps about what is known about the cat, where it comes from or where it comes from and the various worlds it has inhabited since its inception, and even before. Each leg of the cat’s journey constitutes one of Bell’s nine “lives” details in the book.

You can’t buy Austin Bell’s new book. Well, you can buy it by pre-ordering online from Amazon or the publisher of the University Press of Florida, but you can’t read it unless you’re a peer reviewer – and these professional colleagues have said glowing things about it. The book is scheduled for release on August 24.

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The first of the cat’s lives, Bell wrote, was not as an animal or an art object, but as plant life. The cat grew up like a tree, and even the species of wood it was carved from is not known. Archaeologist Frank Cushing described the cat as being “carved from an extremely hard knot or a knotty block of fine, dark brown wood.” Which pre-Columbian Native American cultural group carved, whether Muspa or Calusa, is another mystery, as the date is not known for 1,000 years.

Becoming this sculpture was the cat’s second life, and led to the third, his life as a ceremonial object, decoration or child’s toy. It is not known how it ended – was it an attack? Intentional burial? A hurricane?

“The point of the book isn’t to pin it down, it’s to untie the threads and let people decide,” Bell said. After going through Hurricane Irma, he has his own belief.

While the cat stood still for centuries as the world developed around it, once it was unearthed by Cushing’s expedition in 1896, it was far from sedentary. Marco Island Historical Society CEO Pat Rutledge said the new book would help dispel the misconception that the cat was “just an artifact tucked away in a drawer.” It’s fantastic, ”she said.

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Bell has followed the cat on its travels since its dig, which traveled 12,000 miles and saw it on display in nine different cities, Marco Island being just the most recent. The cat is due to return to its northern home in 2026, making it something akin to Marco’s other resident “snowbirds”.

Although “Nine Lives” is serious scientific work, it was written for the general public and is likely to have wide appeal, certainly on Marco Island. Peer reviewers who read it prior to publication make this point.

“Carefully researched and intelligently written, this comprehensive exploration will appeal to historians, researchers and those who, like so many others, have simply been captivated by the powerful cat mystique,” ​​wrote Laura Lott, President and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums.

“Does a cat really reveal its secrets?” Austin lets us discover some of them, and the result is a delight, ”wrote William Marquardt, curator emeritus of the Florida Museum of Natural History.

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“The Nine Lives of Florida’s Famous Key Marco Cat” is Bell’s third book on the history of Marco Island. He previously wrote “Marco Island (Images of America)” and “Marco Island (Images of Modern America),” which are image-rich accompanying pieces to the Marco Island Historical Museum exhibits.

“Nine Lives” is more narrative, although it includes about fifty images. From start to finish, Bell said, it took three years to write. “Primarily written during the pandemic, especially as I approached my deadline.” This date had to be pushed back several times, he said. “My editor has been patient with me” and said “if writing a book was easy, everyone would do it”.

So now the cat will live like literature. Does it count as a tenth life?

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