At 6,288 feet above sea level, Mount Washington in North Conway, NH, is known to countless travelers and bumper sticker enthusiasts as the highest point in the Northeast and, according to meteorologists who work there, “the land of the world’s worst weather conditions.” ”
And for almost nine decades, there has always been a resident cat. The last, a black Maine Coon named Marty who arrived at the summit in 2008, died on Saturday from an “unexpected illness,” Rebecca Scholand, an official at the Mount Washington Observatory, said Monday evening. Marty was 14, she said. Or 15.
Marty is survived by dozens of meteorologists and interns who work at the Observatory, a non-profit organization that collects weather data at the summit every hour of every day. “I mean her eyes were green – I’m pretty sure they were green,” said Ms Scholand, operations manager of the observatory’s summit. “Nice long fluffy tail.”
“There were days he wanted to rub against your leg and sit on your lap while you did your job,” she says. Other times, she added, he would greet people “with his tail up, just flaunting the fact that he was New England’s tallest cat.”
Ms Scholand, a Long Island native who came to the top in 2010 as an intern, said Marty would distribute his affections in a uniquely feline fashion. “He might love you one week and next week he wouldn’t come near you,” she said. “Typical cat.”
Although up to a quarter of a million people visit the summit during the summer, in the winter it turns into an “arctic island,” Ms. Scholand said. At the observatory, housed inside a large concrete structure built on the mountainside, the winters are intense. “If you’ve ever watched ‘The Shining,’ it’s hitting a little too close to you at the top,” she says.
During winters, “we typically see hurricane-force winds about every third day, and typically have 100-mile-per-hour wind gusts at least once a week,” Ms. Scholand said, adding: “We may have visibility so low that you really can’t see anything ”as well as“ supercooled water droplets that freeze on contact ”.
These frozen water droplets can be destructive and disrupt instrumentation. “This is really the main reason we have such a huge human element at the top,” she explained, “because we are there to keep our instruments defrosted to make sure things are working in an operational manner. . “
So, as teams of workers meet at the top for a consecutive week of work – monitoring the weather, protecting equipment – they try to maintain some connection with the outside world.
“You are very out of touch with the people” on long stays at the top, said Scholand. “You really rely on internet connections and phone calls to communicate with people.” And, as anyone who’s quarantined and attended a Zoom party can tell you, that’s not enough.
Ms Scholand said having a cat nearby turns the top from a place “where you live and work to a place where you work and call home during those weeks you’re there.”
The origin story of the cats at the Observatory, which began operating in 1932, is slightly less glamorous. “Back in the genre of our early days, they were mostly working cats,” Ms. Scholand said; they were used to keep the mice out of the food stored there for workers and visitors.
Over time, cats have become a kind of mascot for the observatory. Before Marty – who won the mascot position in a 2008 election in which more than 8,000 visitors to the observatory’s website voted – there was Nin, who featured in a children’s book, ” Cat in the Clouds ”. (The top is so high that there are days when “we’re actually above the highest cloud level,” Ms. Scholand said, explaining the title of the book.)
Before Nin, there was Inga. Ms Scholand said the cats “pull out” from the observatory when they start to weaken. Marty was preparing to retire in 2021.
Ms Scholand, who has two kittens found on the side of a road (Miss Katie and Dan), a cat (a Himalayan named Yetti) and a dog (a Great Dane named Sully), said of Marty’s temper: in some ways it’s that distance that lets you know that they still love you. “
She said details of the selection of Marty’s successor, and whether there would be an election, had not yet been finalized.