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KCUR's Gina Kaufmann brings you personal essays about how we're all adapting to a very different world.

Kansas Citians still miss Krazy, the cat who guarded the Kauffman Memorial Garden

After Krazy's death, so many visitors still came looking for her that a sign had to be placed in the Orangery to break the sad news to her many admirers.
Carlos Moeno
KCUR 89.3
After Krazy's death, so many visitors still came looking for her that a sign had to be placed in the Orangery to break the sad news to her many admirers.

Until she died this past July, Krazy was a full-time resident at the Kauffman Memorial Garden — protecting beautiful blooms from Brush Creek vermin by night, befriending visitors by day. But the gardener who tamed her remembers that, when Krazy arrived almost 18 years ago, "she was just mean."

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At the Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden (no relation to the author of this story), fall means softening sunlight, dark purple chrysanthemums, and draining the fountains before temperatures plunge — scooping out wished-upon pennies left by visitors earlier in the year.

For head gardener Duane Hoover, the main agenda item in November is planting tulip bulbs. Except this year, for the first time since 2004, Hoover is performing the task without a critical crew member by his side: his trusty garden cat.

Krazy — a plump gray tabby who famously lazed in patches of sunlight when off-the-clock — died in July.

This much-photographed cat was Kansas City famous. She attracted legions of fans who sought her out whenever they'd visit this garden-in-the-city. A sign erected in her memory still leaves people weeping on a regular basis.

But Hoover, clad in work clothes and pushing a wheelbarrow, misses her most of all.

"She was a lot of fun to plant with," he recalls, noting a special fondness for Krazy's antics during bulb-planting sessions. "I'd lay out my bulbs and she'd be out playing with the bulbs and batting them around on the ground."

When Krazy came to this garden almost 18 years ago, she was given a job to do.

"My friend Dale, who works at the Kansas City Zoo, brought her over to me because he knew I was looking for a feral cat for the garden," Hoover explains.

He needed a hunter. A cat who could handle intruding rabbits, and — as Hoover puts it — "certain things that may come up from Brush Creek." So, rodents.

Hoover wanted a scrappy cat, and Krazy did not disappoint.

Once she got over being mean, Krazy loved her new home.
Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden
Once she got over being mean, Krazy loved her new home.

"She had actually been dumped off at the back gate of the zoo, where I guess a lot of domestic animals have been dropped off," Hoover says.

When that happens, Hoover explains, zoo staffers have to catch those domestic animals and re-home them fast so that diseases don't spread on the premises. Krazy ended up not only caged, but mad about it.

Back then, Hoover tells me, "she was just mean." Every time he tried opening her cage, she attacked him, claws brandished, and he quickly retreated.

"A lot of that being mean was just being kept in that cage and trapped and transported and moved and not knowing where she was or where her life was going to end up," he admits. "And then because of her attitude, for a while, I couldn't let her out."

So Hoover fed her with a funnel, cleaning her litter by removing a tray at the bottom of the cage. Gradually, he earned her trust, to the point where he could reach in to feed and pet her. "Come along March, April, she started getting a little bit better," he says.

Hoover started wheeling Krazy around the garden on a cart while he worked, so she could get to know the place. She was given free rein inside the Orangery — an indoor space filled with potted citrus trees, dappled in light that streams through stained-glass windows. A pretty significant upgrade from that cage.

Hoover and his garden cat became friends, but her wild streak didn't vanish immediately. Hoover would tease her when she acted out: "You're just a crazy old cat who doesn't know how good you have it."

Lo and behold, the feral cat — who did not yet have a name — started recognizing that word: "crazy." Every time he said it, she'd come running. As Hoover sees it, she named herself; all he did was make it official.

Duane Hoover, head gardener of Kauffman Memorial Garden, holding Krazy the cat.
Kauffman Gardens
Duane Hoover, head gardener of Kauffman Memorial Garden, holding Krazy the cat.

In her new environment, with her many friends, Krazy's personality changed.

"She loved people," Hoover says. "She had a built-in sense about her that she could tell if you were sad or not feeling well. Often she'd just go up to someone in the garden that was sitting there and jump up in the chair next to them. She knew how to give love without being demanding."

More than once, a visitor told Hoover that when Krazy approached them, they had come to the garden for consolation, to self-soothe in the presence of beauty.

That's what brought me to this spot, for sure. I started visiting these gardens almost daily with my son during the pandemic.

When lockdown began, my son was almost 4, and as scared and uncertain as I was, I felt responsible for making this strange time as beautiful as it could be. We came periodically at first, to give our sense of wonder a little nudge.

For my son, the garden served as a backdrop for elaborate adventures. For me, it did the opposite, calling my thoughts back from the giant problems of the world to something simple and small and immediate, like a flower.

Once ritualized, these short visits took on special meaning, and we clung to them past typical garden-going season. We hung around long enough to see the plants go dormant, to watch snow cover the ground, and then to witness spring's return.

Krazy would often find fall leaves to bat around.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Krazy would often find fall leaves to play with this time of year, when she had fewer visitors to charm.

At some point, without my realizing, my small child befriended the resident cat. He started searching for Krazy as soon as we arrived, studying her ways and reporting back on her habits like an aspiring feline correspondent.

Then one day, he noticed Krazy was missing an eye. Thus far, I'd been reasonably equipped to answer his cat questions, but this I didn't know.

"There was a cancer that was growing on the outside of her eye, and we had it removed twice," Hoover recalls. "It kept coming back."

Given a choice of treating the cancer with radiation and chemotherapy, or removing the eye and cauterizing the socket, because of Krazy's age, Hoover opted for the latter. She lived another four months.

"I noticed her cancer started growing back in her eye, because it started bulging out a little bit where it was sewn shut and she was pulling on it a lot," he says.

When Krazy passed away in July, the announcement from the Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden Facebook pagedrew hundreds of reactions and more than 100 comments from people around town. Many confessed that saying hi to Krazy was their first order of business on garden visits.

"I never loved a cat until I met Princess Crazy. She was definitely Kansas City royalty," said one commenter. "Honestly, she contributed to making Kansas City feel like home," wrote another.

Krazy had a following, and everyone seemed to agree she was a "good cat."

Hoover says that even now, people come to the gardens, tears in their eyes, with old photos of their now-grown children posing beside Krazy when they were small.

Krazy's fans thought of her as an unofficial mascot of Kansas City.
Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden
Krazy's fans thought of her as an unofficial mascot of Kansas City.

Krazy is my son's first loss. He doesn't want to go back to the garden, knowing Krazy won't be there.

Hoover says he can relate. "I miss her every morning when I unlock the gate and she's not there waiting for me," he admits.

But he reminds me of the lessons of the garden, going quiet around this time of year then coming into full bloom every spring.

"We always hope that the seasons of life last a lot longer than a seasons of a garden," Hoover says. "But she lived a great life in a beautiful place... I think she felt very special that she got to live here."

This is a season of grief. But it won't last forever, because it's also a season of healing.

Hoover will bring in a new cat in January, so he can show the rookie around the place without too many visitors — or too much other work — in the way.

In the spring, the bulbs he plants this week will peek out of the ground, first as pointy tips of green leaves, then colorful petals.

Another cat will say hello, and another season will begin.

People don't make cameos in news stories; the human story is the story, with characters affected by news events, not defined by them. As a columnist and podcaster, I want to acknowledge what it feels like to live through this time in Kansas City, one vantage point at a time. Together, these weekly vignettes form a collage of daily life in Kansas City as it changes in some ways, and stubbornly resists change in others. You can follow me on Twitter @GinaKCUR or email me at gina@kcur.org.
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