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Lost for decades, original Cat in the Hat returned to children's hospital in Saanich

At the Cottonwood preschool in Saanich, Mohmed Amer, 4, and Ella and Liam Shaw, both 5, take a gander at an first edition 1957 Cat in the Hat, signed and donated to the Queen Alexandra Centre by Dr. Seuss himself, more than 50 years ago. A local doctor spotted the book at an auction in Victoria and has donated it back to the Saanich-based centre for children.    - Edward Hill/News staff
At the Cottonwood preschool in Saanich, Mohmed Amer, 4, and Ella and Liam Shaw, both 5, take a gander at an first edition 1957 Cat in the Hat, signed and donated to the Queen Alexandra Centre by Dr. Seuss himself, more than 50 years ago. A local doctor spotted the book at an auction in Victoria and has donated it back to the Saanich-based centre for children.
— image credit: Edward Hill/News staff

More than 50 years ago, the Cat in the Hat arrived at the doorstep at the Queen Alexandria Solarium in Saanich, a 1957 first edition signed by Dr. Seuss himself.

Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, was known for sending his books to children's hospitals, and he dedicated this copy to the sick kids of the Solarium, now called the Queen Alexandra Centre for Children's Health.

But like the mischievous and enigmatic Cat, the book vanished at some point in the following decades. It only surfaced in January this year in a Kilshaw's auction, and by a stroke of fate, medical doctor looking for furniture recognized its significance, and ponied up the hard cash.

"I went to the auction specifically to return (the book) to its previous owner," said Dr. Robert O'Connor, a GP who's opened a practice in Metchosin. "The book is dedicated to the children of the Queen Alexandra Centre. I wanted to send it back where it's supposed to be, rather than sitting on someone's bookshelf."

Kilshaw's estimated the signed copy would fetch a few hundred dollars, but O'Conner entered into a bidding war that he won for $550 – "under budget," he said. He verified the authenticity of the Dr. Seuss signature with Neil Williams, an expert in children's books in Victoria.

"The book was intact. No one coloured in it or ripped out pages," said O'Connor, who relocated from Twillingate, NL, the iceberg capital of the world, in November 2011. "I sat down and read the story. I hadn't read it for a while."

He noted that Kilshaw's and Williams waived their fees once they understood the book would be donated, once again, to the Queen Alexandra Centre.

Through the auction process, O'Connor discovered the book had been sold for 25 cents at a garage sale at Goward House in 1992 to a woman who collected children's books. She didn't notice it was a signed edition until 2002, when she took it off the shelf to read to her young daughter, who it happens was treated at QACCH.

"The book somehow got lost. There is no history of when it came here. It was at least in the late 1950s or early '60s," said Jessica Woollard with the Children's Health Foundation of Vancouver Island, which is on the QACCH grounds and helps support the centre. "There is no record on how it ended up across the road in a rummage sale."

Woollard said the foundation has received some interesting donations in its time – most recently gold from old fillings from two dentists; and $1,100 from the outcome of a contest via Twitter by the owner of the Indianapolis Colts football team – but the Dr. Seuss book holds a special place in their hearts.

"We know how significant Dr. Seuss is to kids, and for a centre that helps kids with special needs this is amazing," she said. "It's hard to believe we have this book with his signature."

The centre plans to display the book in a glass case that is kid-high, which is on permanent loan from O'Connor.

The book is stamped with John Cole's Bookshop in La Jolla, Calif., the hometown of Dr. Seuss, meaning he probably bought it off his local bookseller. Cat in the Hat was highly innovative children's writing for its day – and now – in terms of weaving together layered storytelling, education and entertainment.

O'Connor said the famed author likely recognized the Queen Alexandra Solarium as innovative itself, that it's pastoral location by the ocean that offered alternative therapy for kids with polio and tuberculosis.

Cat in the Hat is a story written for Victoria he said, as it starts out with kids stuck inside on a rainy day. "I'm happy the book has a good home."

editor@saanichnews.com

 

 

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