‘The Nine Lives of Florida’s Famous Key Marco Cat’ wins Florida Book Awards Bronze

Will Watts
Austin Bell, Curator of Collections at the Marco Island Historical Museum, with a replica of the Cat made by Peter Sottong. Bell is the author of "The Nine Lives of Florida's Famous Key Marco Cat."

The Marco Island Historical Society (MIHS) recently announce that “The Nine Lives of Florida’s Famous Key Marco Cat,” a book by MIHS Curator of Collections Austin J. Bell, was recognized in March with a bronze award in the category of Florida nonfiction by The Florida Book Awards 2021 competition.

Winning books and their authors will be featured in the summer issue of “Forum,” the statewide magazine of the Florida Humanities. Copies of the books also will be deposited in the Governor’s Mansion Library and Florida State University Library.

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The Florida Book Awards was established in 2006 and is an annual awards program that recognizes, honors and celebrates literature by Florida authors and books about Florida. The awards program is coordinated by the Florida State University Libraries and co-sponsored by the State Library Archives of Florida, the Florida Humanities, Florida Literary Arts Coalition, Florida Library Association, Friends of the Florida State University Libraries, Florida Writers Association and Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.

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In “Nine Lives,” Bell takes a deep dive into all that is known about the world-famous Key Marco Cat, tracking the enigmatic feline from its mist-shrouded origins to its temporary living quarters at the Marco Island Historical Museum. William Marquardt, curator emeritus of the Florida Museum of Natural History has this to say about the Key Marco Cat and Bell’s book, “Mysterious, iconic, and compelling, the Key Marco Cat defies facile characterization. In this well researched book, Bell reveals stories of its nine lives that are sure to surprise and entertain. Does any cat really give up its secrets? Austin lets us in on some of them, and the result is a delight.”

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Likely carved from a native hardwood, the Key Marco Cat was created some 500 to 1,500 years ago by Southwest Florida’s indigenous Calusa people or their predecessors. Discovered on Marco Island in 1896 during a Smithsonian sponsored archaeological expedition led by archaeologist and anthropologist Frank Hamilton Cushing, the half cat/half human figure is considered one of the finest pieces of pre-Columbian Native American art ever discovered in North America. At just six inches tall, the wandering feline has captured the public’s imagination for over a century and continues to intrigue all who view it.

An unprecedented five-year loan extension by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History continues the original three-year loan of the Key Marco Cat to MIHM through 2026. It is reunited with additional rare pre-Columbian artifacts on loan from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

“The Nine Lives of Florida’s Famous Key Marco Cat” is available at the Museum gift shop. Books also can be ordered through the University Press of Florida and other online retailers. The hardcover edition is $26.95.

More:‘The Nine Lives of Florida’s Famous Key Marco Cat’ wins Florida Book Awards Bronze

For information, call 239.389.6447 or visit theMIHS.org. The Marco Island Historical Museum is located at 180 S. Heathwood Drive. The Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Admission is free and the site is handicapped accessible.