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Which historic hotel is home to the unique dinner guest, Kaspar the cat?

The Savoy has accrued numerous legends over the course of the hotel’s storied history. Of these, The Savoy’s resident feline statue stands apart for its unique and superstitious origins. Kaspar, The Savoy’s famous black cat, was carved in 1927 by the designer Basil Ionides, and his creation was directly related to the unfortunate demise of a Savoy client over a quarter of a century earlier.

In 1898, a wealthy South African named Woolf Joel hosted a small private dinner at The Savoy. Woolf Joel, a prominent businessman in the diamond mining industry, was a frequent guest at The Savoy and would often entertain his friends and business acquaintances with dinner at the hotel. On this evening, Woolf decided to invite his guests to dine with him in the Pinafore Room. Renowned hotelier Cesar Ritz, a friend of Woolf’s, even arranged a special menu for the occasion, enlisting the legendary French chef Georges Auguste Escoffier. Unfortunately, one of the guests had to cancel, with the result that only thirteen people gathered for dinner on that fateful evening. Over the course of the meal, there was some discussion about the various superstitions associated with the unlucky number thirteen, including the one that the first person to get up from a table of thirteen would also be the first one to die. Woolf scoffed at the suggestion and sportingly offered to dispel his guests’ fears by leaving the table first. Just a few weeks later, on March 14, 1898, Woolf was assassinated in Johannesburg.

Woolf Joel

Image 1: Historical image of Woolf Joel. Image 2: Image of historical newspaper telling of Woolf Joel's murder (courtesy of The British Library Board).

Woolf’s death caused considerable anxiety and the story spread like wildfire. This was not good publicity for a posh London hotel that was steadily gaining a prestigious reputation among the nobility, celebrities, and other dignitaries. In order to assuage the superstitions of future guests and diners, the hotel’s management devised a plan. Whenever there happened to be thirteen guests at a dinner party, a member of the hotel staff would join as the fourteenth guest. However, this proved to be an uncomfortable situation for both the hotel staff and the guests, who required privacy during dinner.

In the 1920s the architect Basil Ionides, who had been commissioned by the Directors of The Savoy to redecorate the private Pinafore dining room, came up with an ingenious solution. Ionides, the grandson of a Greek Ambassador and famous Art Deco proponent, created a life-size sculpture of a cat, quickly named Kaspar.

Pinafore Room

Historical images of the Pinafore Room c. 1927 with Kaspar sitting on his perch (courtesy of Royal Institute of British Architects).

Kaspar was made from a single piece of wood from a London plane tree and lacquered in black. Any dinner party of thirteen would be joined by Kaspar. As the fourteenth guest, he would have a napkin tied around his neck, and be served each course along with the same complement of cutlery, fine china, and glass issued to the other guests. Kaspar has broken bread with numerous famous figures, most notably Winston Churchill who hosted his dining society, The Other Club, in the Pinafore dining room.

Kaspar the Cat

Image 1: Historical image of Kaspar the cat dining with guests. Image 2: Image of a topiary statue of Kaspar outside the entrance of The Savoy London (courtesy of The Savoy London).

Guests can still see representations of Kaspar throughout The Savoy today. In fact, two topiary statues of the famous feline guard the entrance to the hotel. Kaspar has even inspired a children’s book. Following a year as The Savoy’s writer-in-residence, Michael Morpurgo published the novel “Kaspar, Prince of Cats” in 2008. And, of course, the Pinafore room itself is still open for parties of thirteen.

This has been a Historic Hotels History Mystery
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Question: Which historic hotel is home to the unique dinner guest, Kaspar the cat?

  1. Fairmont Empress
  2. The Savoy London
  3. The Omni King Edward Hotel
  4. The Plaza
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