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Notorious feline siblings celebrate 10 years at the Poe Museum

Two black cats, Edgar and Pluto, sit on a stone slab at the Poe Museum in Richmond.
Pluto (left) and Edgar welcome visitors to the Poe Museum in Richmond. (Photos: Meghan McIntyre/VPM News)

The Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond has a lot to celebrate in 2022, including its centennial anniversary. But it’s also been a decade since the discovery of the museum’s infamous black cat sibling duo, Edgar and Pluto.

A visitor making their way into the Enchanted Garden might be greeted by two very content, slightly chunky, short-haired felines sprawling in the sun. 

The sight of the first guests means it’s time for the brothers to start their daily routine, which involves greeting people, giving tours and attempting to steal food. Pluto takes the initiative, running up to groups for much needed attention, whereas Edgar prefers a more subtle approach, letting people come to him. 

The pair has made the museum their home since they were found as kittens in the garden during 2012, said longtime museum curator Chris Semtner. 

The gardener was working on some compost when he found three kittens beneath an old crate near an alley. He said their mother was nowhere to be found, and after a visit to the vet, the siblings were taken back to the museum, where they’ve since lived. 

Their sister Catterina, who’s named after Poe’s cat, went to live with one of the tour guides, Semtner said.

He said the siblings quickly grew to love their new life — and the showers of attention that came with. 

“You’ve never seen cats like this,” Semtner said. “When we have a group of 50 seventh-graders full of energy, a normal cat will have the sense to get as far away as possible. But Pluto will see them and come running.”

It’s hard to tell the cats apart at first glance. But museum spokesperson Lucy Northup said their personalities couldn’t be more different.

Edgar is a bit moodier than his brother and enjoys his solitude, Northup said. But he expects visitors to pay him homage with a belly rub while he basks in the sun. 

“I think we chose the right one to be named Edgar,” Northup said. “He seems to be a bit more like Poe himself.”

Pluto, on the other hand, is more of a social butterfly and loves running up to big groups of people for attention. He was named after the cat in Poe’s story “ The Black Cat.” It’s one of his darkest stories, Northup said, but thankfully the museum’s Pluto sees a much better fate than his fictional counterpart. 

Northup said the cat has no concept of personal space. 

“If I’m working at my desk, Pluto will just come in and sit and stare right into my face and be like, ‘What are you doing? Can we hang out? What’s going on?’” Northup said.

Despite their differences, Northup said, the siblings work hard to fulfill their duties as museum ambassadors. 

They are head of garden security and take care of any animals that aren’t supposed to be there. The duties, Northup said, usually entail terrorizing birds and squirrels. 

They are also little tour guides and gladly accept tips, preferably paid in treats. 

“If you go into the museum they know the pattern in which people walk through the exhibits,” Northup said. “If they like you, they’ll kind of lead you to the next house and just walk you right to the door.”

The brothers really bring Poe’s work to life, the spokesperson said, especially since the writer loved cats himself. His own cat, Catterina, would apparently sit on his shoulder as he wrote his tales of terror.

“It is very serendipitous that we have two black cats,” Northup said.

Michaela Starkey is from Arizona and visited the museum with her grandparents, excited to see the siblings in action. 

“When I heard they had cats, it just made the museum that much cooler, I think; to have ‘The Black Cat,’ you know?” Starkey said.

The pair has helped the museum gain attention, especially on social media. The cats’ Instagram account has amassed about 2,000 followers, some of whom Northup said visit just to see them.

“The museum is about a guy who died nearly 200 years ago, so it can get a little old,” Northup said. “They just offer some sort of uniqueness to the museum that not many museums have.”

The duo receives support for basic care like food and vet costs from museum donors, Northup said. Some give money specifically for the cats. 

The price of admission, as well as merchandise like stuffed animal versions of the duo, also help.

Northup said museum visitors should not bring treats for the cats and are encouraged to hide their food, as the spoiled siblings love to cheat on their diet.