Prince the cat once ruled the North End. Now he’ll be memorialized online
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Prince, in his prime, wasn't shy about showing up during wedding rehearsals and sermons at the Old North Church, or sleeping in the pulpit and scaling the beams above visitors as they explored the historic building.
He was always appearing, quietly, somewhere.
So when the black cat who was familiar to many residents in the Salem Street area died in March, he left a void in the tight-knit North End neighborhood.
To commemorate the feline fixture, whom many likened to a dog for his outgoing personality and inimitable charm, staff from the Old North historic site, which includes the church, plan to launch next month a digital tour featuring Prince as the guide.
The interactive mobile game, called "Prince's Prowl," is set to roll out in time for Harborfest, during the July 4 weekend, when throngs of visitors descend on Boston.
"The game is about engaging people for a longer period of time than having them just come in, listen to a talk, and then leave," said Erin Wederbrook Yuskaitis, director of education for the Old North historic site. "We want to encourage families to interact more, but also increase the amount of time of their stay."
Visitors at the church, which is famous for displaying the lanterns used to warn colonists about the British invasion in 1775 — "one if by land, two if by sea" — will be able to launch the online guide while strolling through the historic site.
Once it's opened, a virtual Prince will help people discover "hidden treasures" often overlooked, like the British flags hanging from the rafters, and decorations placed in the church in the late 1700s by a privateer.
The interactive tour will also prompt people to answer quiz questions, and use their "cat-like observation skills" to snap and submit pictures of certain displays.
Wederbrook Yuskaitis said the game was developed with the help of Cambridge-based Green Door Labs, and was in the works long before Prince passed away.
The decision to feature Prince in the game was a no-brainer: For years, the black cat would saunter over to the church from his owner's business each morning, and spend much of the day roaming around, planting himself on people's desks and exploring the old building's cracks and crevices.
"He was this little black cat who totally charmed everybody, and was very intelligent," said Priscilla Burns, the parish administrator for the Episcopal congregation that worships at Old North Church. "Some cats just lie in the sun. But Prince had such an amazing personality. He had full run of the church, and people would take pictures of him on the lectern and the altar."
Although Prince spent much of his time strolling up and down Salem Street, greeting people on the Freedom Trail, and hunting prey nearby, he wasn't a neighborhood pet — Prince belonged to John Sullivan, owner of Prince Postale, a shipping and packaging shop located on Prince Street.
Sullivan bought Prince when the cat was just three months old. Prince was approaching his seventh birthday when he suddenly passed away from a stroke, in March. His death had a ripple effect in the neighborhood, devastating his owner and those who regularly interacted with the local celebrity.
"When he died, of course, it was very emotional for me," Sullivan said, recalling his morning talks at the shop with Prince, before the cat set out each day on his adventures. "Prince touched a lot of lives, especially at the [church's] gift shop and the Old North Church. I met all of those people there through Prince."
Prince's impact on the North End is evidenced by his digital footprint. People in the area who came across Prince would often post pictures documenting the cat's whereabouts, using the hashtag #WheresPrince.
Shortly after Prince died, a memorial service was held for the cat at his favorite haunt — the church. Close to 100 people attended the ceremony, which was recorded on video and later uploaded to YouTube.
Sullivan said the interactive guide being launched this week is fitting for a unique cat.
"It's appropriate, and I think it's a great name for an interactive game and a great asset to the Old North Church and the tourist attractions they offer," he said. "It helps educate people, and it helps bring attention to Prince. Without a doubt, everybody is going to be remembering him for a long time to come."