When I arrived in Talkeetna, Alaska, Mayor Stubbs was lounging near a pile of Beanie Babies, fighting to keep his eyes open. His office, on the top floor of Nagley’s General Store, was filled with knickknacks and cages full of screeching green birds. A little girl with tumbling blond pigtails leaned over Stubbs and whispered, “I can’t believe this is the mayor!”
Neither could I. A cat – as mayor!
I was determined to get the scoop on Stubbs. And so, fueled by ambition – and, as the night wore on, beer – I walked the tiny downtown strip (a National Historic Site) chatting up the locals in my quest for answers.
As rumor has it, Stubbs was elected 15 years ago, after residents who had grown frustrated with the available candidates wrote his name in on the ballot as a joke.
But that’s not true.
Talkeetna — a village with a year-round population of well under 1,000 known the world over as a jumping off point for mountain climbers, backpackers, and skiers alike on their way from Anchorage to Denali National Park – has no mayor. There are no elections. Stubbs’s title is honorary.
Lauri Stec, Nagley’s spunky general manager and a 17-year Talkeetna resident, said Stubbs (whose short tail inspired his name) was picked out of a box of kittens left on the store’s front porch 15 years ago and, in time, took up residence there. Shortly thereafter – somehow – locals started calling Stubbs the mayor.
Everyone I talked to had only a nebulous idea of how and why Stubbs had gotten the title, but the story was generally the same. As Sarah Stevens, a chatty clerk at Village Arts & Crafts, said: “We just kind of went with it.”
Locals seemed reluctant to talk about Stubbs at first. He’s been the talk of the town since KTUU, a news channel based out of Anchorage, aired a story about the “mayor” in mid July. Since then it seems everyone has caught on to the story, and all manner of people are showing up at the general store asking for an audience with the famous feline.
“What gets me is that everyone thinks it’s so funny,” huffed Vonda Baker as she dispensed draft beers into glasses at the Wildflower Café. “People are like, how stupid can Talkeetna be?”
Once they got going, though, residents couldn’t stop talking about their cat mayor – Baker included. “He goes straight to the kitchen, straight to the owner, and will only eat king crab,” she laughed.
Stec, too, spoke of the mayor’s affinity for the clawed creatures. She said he has been known to jump on tables and eat crab straight from people’s plates – and they love it.
Stubbs constantly wanders, popping into businesses and plopping down on countertops. He frequents West Rib Pub & Grille, where I headed to sample yet another Alaskan brew and dig deeper into the story.
The tired bartender didn’t say much about Stubbs when I walked in, but the pub’s patrons, loosened with alcohol, were more than happy to fill me in.
“He faced off a fox the other day!” piped a young local.
After a rush of comments, the bartender, Sarah Pace, joined in: “He’s a good cat. He comes in, hangs out when I ring people up, and drinks his glass of daily catnip.”
(She wasn’t kidding. Stubbs laps up a mixture of water and catnip out of a wine glass from his perch on the bar.)
Then, as if on cue, the cat himself strolled in. Everyone picked him up and pet him.
Then the spry old cat ran outside and caught a mouse.
Stubbs is much more than a cat or a mayor to the people of Talkeetna. Louanne Tysdal, who works at the historic Talkeetna Roadhouse and has lived in the village for 14 years, said Stubbs is Talkeetna.
“He’s just kind of a free spirit. He wanders in, gets fed, and makes himself comfortable in several places around town,” she said softly. “He is kind of us in a way.”
All in all, residents agreed that Stubbs is irreplaceable — so he’ll probably be Talkeetna’s only feline mayor.
But they didn’t rule out a dog.