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St. Helenans remember Elsie the Library Cat

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St. Helena Public Library patrons gathered Tuesday for a memorial for of the cat who was plucked from an animal shelter and became a town mascot and internet sensation.

Elsie the Library Cat, who died in May at the age of 18, lives on in the memories of friends who donned cat ears, watched photos and videos of her antics, and shared stories of St. Helena’s most famous feline.

“Elsie was truly a member of our staff,” said librarian Mariah McGuire. “We became fast friends, especially in the winter … when I got my own space heater.”

The staff unveiled a lifelike, slightly miniaturized 3-D-printed statue of Elsie, whose likeness had already graced ornaments, chocolates tote bags and — of course — library cards.

Former Library Director Jennifer Baker recalled the first time she met Elsie at the Napa animal shelter in 2012. The cat Baker had planned to meet had already found a new home, so the staff introduced her to a sleek, black 8-year-old cat with two different-colored eyes.

Elsie — soon to be renamed after library co-founder Elsie Wood — had been at the shelter for four months. Her former owner was in the military and had to give her up after being shipped off.

Elsie quickly left an impression at the library. She helped herself to a glass of water belonging to an unsuspecting author, who was befuddled when the audience started laughing during his speech. She didn’t suffer dogs gladly, once pouncing on a visiting chihuahua. She was attracted to the smell of cigarette smoke for reasons that never became clear.

Elsie was a hit on social media, amassing more than 17,000 Facebook followers. Fans from all over the country would visit the library just to meet her.

McGuire said Elsie chose library employee Cecilia Raffo as her human and would mope whenever Raffo was on vacation. Raffo returned the devotion, visiting Elsie on her days off and keeping her company when the library was closed on Sundays.

Carol Gruetzner of the library’s nonprofit Friends & Foundation recalled giving Elsie a starring role in an ad promoting the Bookmark Napa Valley fundraiser. She and a videographer wanted to superimpose Elsie onto the classic MGM lion logo, so they spent five hours following her around the library until they captured the perfect footage of an Elsie meow.

“She was very shy at first, but after she got used to the camera we became quite good friends,” Gruetzner said.

The library staff thanked the Friends & Foundation for subsidizing Elsie’s care and veterinarian David Gold for treating Elsie toward the end of her life.

You can reach Jesse Duarte at (707) 967-6803 or jduarte@sthelenastar.com.

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St. Helena Editor

Jesse has been a reporter for the St. Helena Star since 2006. He became editor in 2021.

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