Cats rule at historic Martha Vick|[12/03/07]

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 3, 2007

When David Dabney saw this year that cat ornaments dominated specialty catalogs — Neiman Marcus, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Smithsonian, to name a few — he decided this would be a cat Christmas at the Martha Vick House, the historic Grove Street tour home in which he has lived since 1983.

So the 9-foot tree that welcomes guests to the 177-year-old home is decked with variations of the furry pets. There are fat cats, angel cats and even a plush old yellow cat made with antique fabric hanging from the branches of the Noble fir tree that stands in the home’s gallery.

Silver balls — to reflect the strands of 1,000 lights — and a few favorite non-cat ornaments also fill the tree.

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Even though the cat ornaments are an addition since last Christmas, Dabney and owner Bill Longfellow have been collecting cat decorations for about 30 years. It all began when the two went to Russia. A layover in Ireland offered a fast chance to shop and the first cat item — a crystal figurine of a sitting cat.

“There was this Lalique cat. He started the whole thing,” Dabney said.

Since then, the collection has blossomed to include Orangey, a 6-year-old short-haired real cat, who, according to Longfellow, “rules the roost.”

Orangey has begun to get in the spirit of her Christmas cats by sleeping under the tree and occasionally batting at some of her lifeless cat friends and knocking them down, her owners said.

Orangey also has a claim to some fame, being entered in the Pet Idol contest held by The Vicksburg Post earlier this year to raise money for the Newspapers In Education program. “She was the top cat in the contest,” Dabney said. “She was beat out by dogs, but she got more votes than any other cat.”

While Orangey is the only live pet at the Martha Vick House, the inanimate creatures number 100 — or more — on the tree alone. The oldest of them all is one that came on top of a Christmas present about 10 years ago.

“It’s homemade, but that’s what makes it cute,” Dabney said.

His collection of crystal cats has also been sprawled along the dining room table, which is set up for Christmas luncheons and other events. And, while the crystal cats — collected from every major crystal dealer he could find — are perhaps his most prized, other collections of felines dot almost every corner of the house.

All of the cat and other Christmas decorations will be on display daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for tours. By appointment, the house may also be viewed in the evenings.

“We have several tour groups coming. I hope they like it,” Dabney said. “We did it for ourselves, though, really.”

Themed trees have been a tradition at the Martha Vick House.

“We used to do an all-bird tree, but that got kind of boring after a while,” Dabney said.

They have also sported an all-silver tree, as well as a tree full of crystal prisms, he added. But, the cat collection might just be a keeper, he indicated, pointing to ornaments purchased from both catalogs and local shops.

“I think, from now on, it’s going to be a cat tree,” Dabney said.