News & Politics

Will the Capitol See the Demon Cat This Year?

The Demon Cat supposedly bodes political turnover and national disaster.

This is not the Demon Cat. Photo via @sabbats_lair on Instagram.

Legend has it that a feline spirit lurks in the basement of the Capitol: Demon Cat. The huge and hissing black cat dates back to the 19th century. After some Redditors were chatting about the tale, we thought it would be a good time to revisit it—and among the mythical beasts of the DC area (see: the Bunny Man, the Goatman) there’s one eerily astrology-level history around this unique specter that feels like it could only make sense in 2020.

Demon Cat is a “truly horrific apparition,” wrote the Washington Post in 1898. “The feline spook of the Capitol possesses attributes much more remarkable, inasmuch as it has the appearance of an ordinary pussy when first seen, and presently swells up to the size of an elephant before the eyes of the terrified observer.” Capitol guards on the night shift reported seeing and even fighting with the Demon Cat. According to another Post article published in 1935, its first appearance was mentioned in the Congressional Record around the time of the Civil War, when one worker said they saw a cat “so full of pep that it hissed ‘like a washboiler’ as it jumped, mascara-like, mouth wide open and radio-ad-like teeth agleam.”

But the most alarming detail in that article was about what Demon Cat’s appearance could mean: “According to legislative legend, this furry fury invariably shows up just before a national disaster and, occasionally, before a political change in administrations.”

Political changes and disasters? Did someone say 2020? Of course, this is only a myth. We’re just asking: Has anyone seen her? Ghost tour organizations around town maintain that Capitol guards are still tormented by the Demon Cat. (You can find photos online of what appear to be paw prints on the floor of the Small Senate Rotunda.)

When Atlas Obscura wrote about Demon Cat in 2018, it talked to the US Capitol Historical Society’s chief guide, Steve Livengood, who chalked the ghostly confusion up to drunk guards: “The night watchmen were not professionals. They would often be some senator’s ne’er-do-well brother-in-law that had a drinking problem.” Even if she’s just the result of some beer-swigging loser’s imagination, the Demon Cat is still an icon. (See: the DC rollerderby team the DemonCats.)

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Web Producer/Writer

Rosa joined Washingtonian in 2016 after graduating from Mount Holyoke College. She covers arts and culture for the magazine. She’s written about anti-racism efforts at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, dinosaurs in the revamped fossil hall at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, and the horrors of taking a digital detox. When she can, she performs with her family’s Puerto Rican folkloric music ensemble based in Jersey City. She lives in Adams Morgan.