That One Time a Door-To-Door Catnip Salesman Was Arrested for Inciting a Crowd in NYC

History is super fun, y’all, and I maintain that if you don’t agree it’s just because you haven’t been told the right stories.

Stories like this one, about a man who sold catnip door-to-door and made unintentional friends with every feline within a ten-block radius (maybe more) and earning an arrest for inciting a (cat) riot.


Photo Credit: Pixabay

It was 1909, and NYC businessman G. Herman Gottlieb had fallen on hard times. Looking for a way to make some quick cash, he ducked into a wooded section of Northern Manhattan, gathered a couple baskets of wild catnip, and toted them down to Harlem, where people kept pampered kitties at home.

As the enterprising Mr. Gottlieb found out soon enough, Harlem was also home to plenty of feral cats, all of whom scented his wares before he could knock on a single door.


It began with a handful, the following cats writhing and rolling in the leaves that fell out of his baskets. More and more cats gathered, attempting to jump into his baskets as the “rubbed themselves against his legs, mewing, purring, and saying complimentary things about him” quipped an article about the incident that appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

He tried to frighten the cats away, further proving that he knew nothing about cats, says The Washington Times’s recounting of the event.

“All of them, rich and poor, aristocrats from the sofa cushions near the front windows and thin plebians from the areaways struggled mightily to get into the two baskets of catnip.”

Photo Credit: iStock

Can I also just interject and say that I miss reporting like this? Hot damn.

Gottlieb was panicking and, undoubtedly relieved to spot a policeman, ran over for help. It was not to be, however, because the policeman promptly solved the situation by arresting Gottlieb for inciting a crowd.

“Why don’t you arrest the catnip?” was Gottlieb’s reported reply. “That is collecting the crowd. Not I.”


Officer Higgins was unimpressed and hauled the would-be salesman (still trailed by cats) to a police station on East 104th street. Once there, the officers had a detailed discussion on whether the arrest was valid.

“We can’t hold this man,” argued Lieutenant Lasky. “The law says a man must not cause a crowd of people to collect. The law doesn’t say anything about cats.”


“The law doesn’t say anything about people,” countered Officer Higgins. “It says ‘a crowd.’ A crowd of cats is certainly a crowd.”

The real hero of the day entered at some point, the station cat named Pete, who took issue with the invading felines and drove them away.

Gottlieb was released and driven home in a patrol wagon, though it was reported that some cats hadn’t given up and continued following the car – and the catnip – to its final destination.

I think we can all learn a lesson here, folks, and it’s one that cat people already know: never underestimate the lengths at which a cat will go to in order to get what they desire.

They won’t take your feelings, your bank account, or your freedom into account during their pursuit.