Arts + Culture

The Return of the Key Marco Cat

Perhaps the most important archaeological find in Florida history is back for a two-year visit at the Marco Island Historical Museum.

  Twenty-five years ago, a group of Marco Islanders formed a historical society, determined to save their town’s past from slipping away like an eroding beach. But there was another motivation, too. They wanted their cat back. The Key Marco Cat, a wooden Calusa icon, had been unearthed in 1896 by archaeologist Frank Hamilton Cushing in what would become regarded as the most important archaeological dig in Florida history for the volume of artifacts, their condition and insight into the elusive tribe.     Cushing packed the cat among 11 barrels and 59 boxes worth of artifacts, and shipped it north, the treasure ultimately to be divided between the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Pennsylvania. The cat has visited Southwest Florida twice—during Marco’s millennial celebration in 1999-2000 and during the centennial of Cushing’s expedition. During neither time was it housed in Marco’s historical museum, which had yet to be built. As the Marco Island Historical Society members determined their goals, they fixated on the idea of displaying the cat, not forever perhaps, but at least for a grand display, a historic homecoming. They would go on to raise $4.5 million and build a museum. In the main exhibition hall, they’d install three jewel case-style display windows. They imagined one day the cat would sit in the center one. On Jan. 26, the Marco Island Historical Museum will host an opening celebration for a new, tw
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