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May 18, 2020

John Pierre Chates, the Cat Who Came to Stapleton, Staten Island With His Own Passport in 1942

“This is about a refugee ship, 396 refugees from Lisbon. It’s the usual stuff–a baby was born, a man died, a princess born in Flint, Michigan, escaped across Spain and a guy had to get a passport for a cat.” – Joseph Martin and Gerald Duncan, ship news reporters at Stapleton, Staten Island, New York Daily News, February 21, 1942
At 3:30 p.m. on February 20, 1942, the Portuguese steamship Serpa Pinto tied up at Stapleton, Staten Island, after a 27-day crossing via Casablanca, Africa, Jamaica, British West Indies, and Cuba. According to the Daily News, the crossing was smooth, with not one sighting of a war-time submarine.

One of the refugees on board the ship was Pierre Mande, who was traveling with his cat, whom he called John Pierre Chates (probably should be Jean Pierre Le Chat). This story seems a bit more far-fetched than the princess story, but as one of the ship reporters literally said, “This thing about the cat and the passport smells a little like a publicity stunt, but what the hell.”

Pierre Mande and his cat at Stapleton. New York Daily News, February 21, 1942.

According to Pierre, he had been an orchestra leader on several of the large French liners, including the De Grasse and the Paris. He also appeared at the Ritz in Paris before the Germans came in and occupied the city.

In September 1939, Pierre joined the French army. He took part in the attack on Karlsbrunn, Germany, and was captured. Somehow he managed to escape back to Paris, where his cat was still living. The cat had been a gift from a local baker, and Pierre was quite fond of him.

The reporter continued, “He took the cat and escaped to Nice concealed in the bottom of a vinegar wagon. Finally he got to Lisbon and he had to pay 100 francs for a passport for the cat and 50 francs for a visa. That’s what he said. It’s not much of a cat, tiger-striped like any alley cat, but he said it meows the scale when he plays his fiddle.”

Another passenger was a 39-year-old princess named Jane Lawrence Vatchandze. The Michigan-born princess had married Georgian Prince David Vatchnadze (Russia) a year earlier.

Princess Jane Lawrence Vatchandze

Prince David had been working at an auto plant in Paris when the war forced the couple to slip across the border to Spain at night in secrecy. The prince and princess were separated at Havana because of a visa issue.

(via The Hatching Cat)


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