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

30 comments

  • bquinn32@comcast.net

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

    Bob Quinn

    Like

    • Wm. Skipper Publicover

      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 !

      Like

  • 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.

    Like

  • Caroline haines

    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?

    Like

  • Gail O'Docherty

    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.

    Like

  • 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!”

    Like

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

    Like

  • 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!

    Like

  • Sylvia DeBoever

    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.

    Like

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

      Like

      • Sylvia DeBoever

        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.

        Like

  • 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

    Like

    • 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

      Like

  • Barbara McAllister

    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!!

    Like

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

      Like

      • Barbara McAllister

        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!
        Hugs,
        Barbara Bragg McAllister

        Like

        • 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.

          Like

  • 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!

    Like

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

    Like

  • 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.

    Like

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

    Like

  • I have been searching for a while now for info on the catnip man. I bought a painting of him at an auction with this story on the back. “Larry Luscome, “The Catnip Man”, for years he stould in front of Salem 5¢ savings bank and sold bags of fresh green catnip.”
    Thank you for posting!

    Like

    • grace schrafft

      I used to see him in front of the Cape Ann Savings Bank; didn’t know there was ever a Salem 5 in Gloucester.

      Like

      • I don’t think that there was a Salem 5 in Gloucester. He would be in front of the Salem 5 in Beverly where he apparently lived the last ten years or so of his life on Cabot Street.

        Like

  • Yes I remember the Catnip man. My mom bought catnip from him. I remember him in front of the 5&10 near the Waiting Station.
    Did the high school shop students build him a house?

    Like

  • Eileen Patten Oliver

    I sent and asked local artist Betty Lou Schlemn if she knew who may have done the painting. This is her reply; >>>> I think it might be, almost positive, Winslow Wilson or Isabel La Freniere and it was done at the Rockport Art Assoc. portrait group Saturday afternoon or Wednesday night. I would first think Isabel because of the background. Isabel was president of The Rockport Art Assoc. and it’s first curator. If anyone would know, Betty Lou would! via James Oliver.

    Like

  • Thanks James! So it sounds like Betty Lou remembers Catnip Bill sitting for a portrait group at RAA – how cool. I could only find one example of a portrait by Isabel online, and it did show a similar style and technique. I couldn’t find any portrait work of Wilson to compare.

    Like

Leaving a comment rewards the author of this post- add to the discussion here-

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s