Black cats are world-renowned for being the harbingers of bad luck and misfortune. However, in some cultures, they are seen as talismans or good luck charms. The latter may be said of the darkly colored feline who resides in London’s premier, purpose-built, luxury hotel, the Savoy. Kaspar, as it is affectionately called, can be seen perched on a table to the left of the reception desk until its unique services are required.
Kaspar has the remarkable and one-of-a-kind task of being asked to attend any dining function that necessitates an additional dinner companion. The cat’s origins date back to an incident that took place towards the end of the 19th century.
A wealthy, South African businessman named Joel Woolf was holding a dinner party at the hotel. The meal was to be attended by 14 guests, but one of the diners had to bow out at the last minute. This left 13 people at the party. Word went around that whichever guest was to depart from the meal first would have an unfortunate occurrence befall them. Woolf, not being a superstitious fellow, decided to tempt fate and was the first to leave the party. Just a few weeks later, the mining magnate was shot and killed in Johannesburg. When word of his demise got back to the hotel, plans were put in motion to prevent any future mishaps involving an inauspicious number of participants in any on-site gathering.
At first, a waiter would be roped in to act as an alternate. But this proved impractical because it denied the dining room of a server. Towards the end of the 1920s, an architect by the name of Basil Ionides was redesigning one of the dining rooms and came up with a solution to the hotel’s unlucky dilemma. Out of a single piece of wood, he carved a statuette of a black feline, which could act as a 14th guest.
It is anybody’s guess as to why Ionides chose the figure of a cat and named it Kaspar. But anytime there is a function and an extra body is needed, this lucky grimalkin is put into service, complete with a napkin tied around its neck. Kaspar might not add much in the way of conversation, but it is given the same impeccable service as all the other attendees. This includes an extra saucer of milk for its fortunate presence.
The abominable curse seemed to have been lifted, as no deadly events involving guests were reported after Kaspar’s arrival. However, the same cannot be said for Kaspar itself, which was cat-napped during World War II. Winston Churchill would often use the Savoy as an alternative war room. During one military meeting, Kaspar’s presence was required. At the end of the gathering, the charmed totem went missing, purloined by some drunken servicemen. Churchill was not amused and ordered that the feline be returned.
Since then, when not “in service,” Kaspar can be seen to the left of reception in the lobby.
Incidentally, as one walks up to the Savoy’s front doors from the Strand, they will encounter one of the few places in Britain where cars drive on the right-hand side of the road. This practice dates back to the era of stagecoaches and remains in constant effect to this day. Cab drivers are often given their test using this unique roadway.