Black cats are often known for being the harbingers of bad luck and misfortune. However, in the U.K., they are seen as good luck charms. This is especially true of the dark-furred feline who resides in London’s premier, purpose-built luxury hotel, the Savoy. Kaspar, as he is affectionately called, can be seen perched on a table to the left of the reception desk waiting to provide his unique services.
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 toward 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. As this is a famously unlucky number, word went around that whichever guest departed 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 misfortune involving an inauspicious number of participants befalling any on-site gathering.
At first, a waiter would be roped in to act as an alternate. This proved impractical, however, 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 dilemma. Out of a single piece of wood, he carved a statuette of a black feline, who could act as a very polite 14th guest.
It is anybody’s guess why Ionides chose the figure of a cat and named him Kaspar. But anytime there is a function and an extra body is needed, this lucky grimalkin is called into service, complete with a napkin tied around his neck. Kaspar may not add much in the way of conversation, but he is given the same impeccable service as all the other attendees. This includes an extra saucer of milk for his fortunate presence.
The abominable curse seems to have been lifted, as no deadly events involving guests were reported after Kaspar’s recruitment. However, the same cannot be said for Kaspar himself, who 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 unamused 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.
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.