Who Remembers the Catnip Man?

catnip man

Lora Merchant came into the gallery to visit today.  Lora grew up on Rocky Neck, moved away when she was 20, now lives in Georgia, and would do anything to live back in Gloucester again.  She mentioned something about giving up two fingers to anyone from Gloucester who would trade places with her in Georgia – a little extreme, but I can understand.  We talked about all sorts of things Gloucester, and then she mentioned the Catnip Man, who she remembered following down the street when she was a young girl.  He was a kind of scruffy character who grew catnip, which he walked the streets of Gloucester selling, followed by a clowder of cats.  Does anyone else remember the Catnip Man, called Catnip Bill?  He was the subject of the children’s book “Catnip Man” written in 1951 by Rockport author, Ruth Holberg. 

According to Stephen P. Hall of Beverly, the Capnip Man’s real name was William Albert Joseph Patrick Swayne Luscomb.  Bill lived the last years of his life in a rooming house at 32 Broadway Street in Beverly, and was a familiar sight on Cabot Street in the late 1950s until his death in 1962.

E.J. Lefavour

About E.J.

Artist, researcher, writer, spiritual traveler of this fascinating orb we inhabit, lover of life and all it has to offer. Hi everyone out there in GMG land. My name is Ellen “E.J.” Lefavour (a/k/a “Ejay Khan” – the pseudonym I used during my years as a political activist artist). I moved to Cape Ann in September of 2010, and was thrilled to be invited by Joey to become a daily contributor to Good Morning Gloucester in December of that year. I am a painter, photographer and writer who has lived and worked as an artist for 20 years, since leaving the corporate world in 1990 to pursue my passion. My contributions to GMG will consist of images (either my paintings, photographs, montages or the occasional video) and a little history about the image, called “Did you Know?” I hope to come up with tidbits of information that people don’t already know, or had forgotten they knew. As I am new here, everything is new and fascinating to me, especially the amazing history, so bear with me if I post something that is common knowledge – I’ll eventually come up with something that’s new to you. As an artist, I will also write about the incredible art scene on Cape Ann. Please take a minute to comment on my posts, like them or not, especially if you have corrections or something to add, as that is how I, and all of us, learn. Have a Good Morning Gloucester, and a blessed day.
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24 Responses to Who Remembers the Catnip Man?

  1. bquinn32@comcast.net says:

    Yes I remember Catnip Bill.  He was a household name in the 40′s

    Bob Quinn

    • Wm. Skipper Publicover says:

      I am not sure about the “Catnip Man” but had all sorts of interesting vendors on Rocky Neck during the 40′s & 50′s the Iceman,, tree man, ladder man, knife man, Broom man..just a Super place to grow up !

  2. grace schrafft says:

    I wrote a story about him when i worked for the GD Times many years ago. I can dig it up if someone wants to read it. catnip bill lived in a barrel in west Gloucester for some time.

  3. Caroline haines says:

    I remember Catnip Bill ! I used to see him on the street when I visited my Grandmother, who lived on Union Hill. I also remember the “ice man ” delivering ice for her icebox there. She would put a cardboard sign in the window, indicating that she needed ice.
    How about Floyd the Clammer- remember him?

  4. Gail O'Docherty says:

    I was too young to remember him but my dear grandmother bought me the book, then got the author, the illustrator and the Catnip Man himself to all autograph it. I still have it and treasure it.

  5. Carol says:

    I remember Catnip Bill. He used to stand in front of the Salem Five Cents Savings Bank on Essex Street, He always said “Don’t forget kitty!”

  6. I love this. “The catnip man. “Don’t forget Kitty.” Great stuff. Thanks, EJ!

    • E.J. says:

      I thought he was pretty cool. Just another thing that makes Gloucester so fascinating. What other town can say they had a catnip man.

  7. Tim Holloran says:

    Now, there’s one local character I have no recollection of at all. And I can’t imagine not remembering “a clowder of cats.” You just don’t see a good clowder anymore ::sigh:: And I should point out that I’m old enough to remember the ice man when he still had a horse drawn wagon!

  8. Sylvia DeBoever says:

    I remember catnip Bill.I used to buy his small bags of catnip from him.Can’t recall how much it was,couldn’t have been too much.My cats loved the stuff.I remember the ice man too,used to buy a block of ice from him.There also was a scissors/knife sharpener man .They all appeared regularly on Hartz Street.

    • E.J. says:

      Hi Sylvia – how are you? Nice memories from your youth in Gloucester. How’s the knee doing?

      • Sylvia DeBoever says:

        Hi,E.J.Am doing okay,knee is still stiff,but I will live with it,no choice.I have many stories of Gloucester.I could write a book,if I were talented enough.Lots of good memories as well as not so good.It is as they say,Life.Love reading about the fiesta,enjoy GMG so much.We were married in Gloucester at St.Peters Church on Sayward St.,55 years ago yesterday.I cried when I read my beloved church was turned into Condos.Enjoy your Mug-Up news.My best to you as always,Sylvia.

  9. Lora M Kling says:

    Wow! Great responses! I wasn’t entirely joking about happily sacrificing digits if it meant I could move back home for good! It was wonderful reminiscing and talking with you about my childhood in my beloved Gloucester. I had a great visit and even made it to Fiesta. There’s no place like home! Lora Merchant Kling

    • E.J. says:

      Hi Lora, It was really great meeting you, and I hope you are able to move back to Gloucester, without losing any digits. Thanks for the interesting post idea – I found the catnip man fascinating, and so did others. There’s a 2 family coming on the market on East Main St. for around $300K. If you want details, email me khanstudio@comcast.net

  10. Barbara McAllister says:

    I remember “Catnip Bill” . As a child, I was a little afraid of him because of the way he looked. We lived in Gloucester until 1955. I also remember the “scissors grinder”, the milkman and the ice man. A lot of great memories as a child in Gloucester. Can’t wait to visit again. I miss it so much!!

    • E.J. says:

      Thank God for Joey C. and GMG where you get to visit, reminisce and experience Gloucester every day from wherever you are.

      • Barbara McAllister says:

        Amen! I met you all a couple of years ago at the last mug up of the year in Rocky Neck. We were staying at the Bass Rocks Ocean Inn. I used to live on Traverse St. in East Gloucester and my grandmother lived on Short St. in Gloucester. There’s something about Gloucester that just gets in your blood and beckons you to return. We just got back from a trip to Alaska and Seattle so I guess we can’t get back there until next year (very unfortunately). Anyway, as you said, thank God for Joey C and GMG and you and everyone who contributes. I love Joey’s driving videos, esp. the snowy ones. I also love the greasy pole and St.Peter’s Fiesta coverage and basically everything else. I also love Sista Felicia’s recipes (I also met her and her daughter at the mug up). She had made an unbelievably delicious apple cake and you had made your famous deviled eggs. WONDERFUL MEMORIES!
        Barbara Bragg McAllister

        • Fredrik Bodin says:

          Comments such as yours, Barbara, remind us of how lucky we are to live on this unique island. When I was rowing the gig out of Maritime Gloucester, almost every time we took a break and were drifting in the harbor, someone would say: “I can’t believe we live here!” I’m glad we can share some of that with you on GMG.

  11. Lora M Kling says:

    To Joey, E.J., Fredrik, and all the regular contributors, I send my heartfelt, deepest thanks for giving homesick ex-pats like me an opportunity to once again share in the everyday life of our beloved hometown, no matter where on the globe I and other of Gloucester’s wandering sons and daughters might be. It is something wonderful to look forward to each day! How extraordinary it is to see the sights and sounds of Gloucester in real time again. For me, there really is no place like home. Thanks so much for sharing!

  12. Fredrik Bodin says:

    Thank you Laura, and we GMG contributors will keep the Fish City vibe going out to you! Fredrik

  13. Kitty says:

    My father was telling me about this man a few weeks ago. I thought he was joking!! He said he used to see him downtown near the old Sterling Drug Store.

  14. Dennis Ahern says:

    The Catnip Man was also seen on the streets of Rockport back in the ’50s.

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