Lily the Cat Lady

Lily Christian is still remembered so very fondly as the “the Cat Lady” more than four decades after she stopped roaming the streets of Boulder Creek.

San Lorenzo Valley Museum

"Lily the Cat Lady" (1976) by Barbara WinnerSan Lorenzo Valley Museum

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, this tiny woman with a debilitating illness that made it difficult for her to walk, went out every day carrying a box or pulling a cart filled with cat food, milk, and water to feed the stray cats of Boulder Creek, California.

She was born Lily Myrtle Carlyon in Grass Valley, California, in 1895, to English immigrants. She was the youngest of seven children. Her mother contracted malaria before Lily was was born and passed the disease on to Lily, who spent the first years of her life bed ridden.

"Lily Christian" (1980-09-02) by Photographer UnknownSan Lorenzo Valley Museum

In an interview in 1972, Lily recalled, “Men never took to me,” however in 1939, she met and married John Roy Christian, at the time a marine fireman.

Around 1947, Lily and John started spending the summer in Boulder Creek and in 1960, they retired there.

After John’s death the following year, Lily decided to stay full time in Boulder Creek. At first she lived at the top of Hazel Avenue and later in a two-room cabin behind the Boulder Burger restaurant. She managed on a small pension and her social security check.

Formerly, the  Boulder Burger Restaurant, currently Tae's Edo Sushi Bar and Grill.

"Lily's Stray Cats" (1979-05) by Photogrtapher UnknownSan Lorenzo Valley Museum

Around 1960, Lily's cat Flora Dora gave birth to a litter of five kittens. It wasn’t long after this that Lily began to feed some local stray cats as well as her own. When she first began feeding the cats they were so starving they could barely stand.

She had a regular routine. Because walking was so painful for her, the feeding routine would take all day. At 8:30 a.m. she fed the cats in and behind the Post Office. Kate Klein, who worked there, recalls the cats entering the building through the bundled mail drop slot.

"Lily Christian" (Circa 1980) by Barbara WinnerSan Lorenzo Valley Museum

Next, Lily would stop at the Black Forest Bakery for coffee and a donut. Then, around 11 a.m. she would feed the cats behind the Laundromat. In the afternoon, she would stop at the County Bank. Here on a comfortable bench she would take a short nap.

"Lily Christian" (Circa 1980) by Photographer UnknownSan Lorenzo Valley Museum

Diminutive Lily had a deformed spine and a neck injury, and because of this she slept upright in a chair in her kitchen. She was in constant pain but never complained.

"Lily Christian" (Circa 1980) by Barbara WinnerSan Lorenzo Valley Museum

To hold her head up she would stuff paper towels under her chin.

She also suffered from arthritis and the effects of old injuries that made it difficult for her to dress or shower. One year she fell in a rainstorm and fractured her wrists, however not wanting to be a burden on anyone, she never had the fractures treated.

"Lily the Cat Lady" (1977) by Barbara WinnerSan Lorenzo Valley Museum

As it became difficult for her to take care of herself Santa Cruz County assigned her a caregiver, Roberta McPherson, who would visit Lily to ensure she had food and to clean for her.

In 1980, Lily fractured her hip in a fall. Unable to care for herself, she was moved to the Cabrillo Convalescent Hospital, a nursing home in Santa Cruz. Roberta McPherson, who had been Lily’s caregiver, visited her each Sunday. Roberta recalls that Lily thought the home was like “the Arabian Knights.” With three meals a day and always being warm – Lily thought it was wonderful.

Untitled (1980-10-28) by The Community and Rachel BachrachSan Lorenzo Valley Museum

For Lily’s 85th birthday, on October 28, 1980, she was given a hand colored  print by Rachel Bachrach, of her walking in front of the Livery Stable in Boulder Creek, her cats close behind.

The back, shown here, is covered with the signatures of Lily’s friends and well wishers.

Lily’s friends remember her high chirpy voice and her consistent good-bye reply “I’ll be here.” But the day she passed away she told her friend Roberta McPherson, “I can’t say that any more because I won’t be here.” Lily passed away less than an hour later as Roberta was driving home on December 21, 1980.

Lily was buried along side her husband in the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno.

Lily Christian the Cat Lady of Boulder Creek, Ca., Barbara Winner, 1987, From the collection of: San Lorenzo Valley Museum
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Cat Lady (1985) by Janet FlanaganSan Lorenzo Valley Museum

In the words of artist Janet Flanagan: "She is remembered as a gentle, almost shy person who never quite realized how well known and loved she had become."

Visit the life-sized carving of Lily by chainsaw artist Joe Elmore outside the San Lorenzo Valley Museum Grace Episcopal Gallery in Boulder Creek.

Credits: Story

Many thanks to Roberta McPherson, Frank Sandt, Kate Kein, Grant Appley, and Barbara Navarro Dix who shared their memories of Lily.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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