MINNEAPOLIS — On a warm Saturday in July 2019, a 911 caller reported a disturbance at 24th and Colfax in south Minneapolis: a group of 100-some people in the street, not letting vehicles pass.
The incident soon appeared on a local police scanner Facebook page, stirring fear of a fomenting protest. Finally, one amateur sleuth suggested that perhaps it was just the annual Wedge neighborhood cat tour and posted a link to the event page.
"Please, someone tell me that the cat tour is a joke. Please."
"I thought surely this is an article from the Onion."
"Settle down, neighbors! Its [sic] hard to imagine anything less threatening than the Wedge Cat Tour, folks."
"What the hell is a cat tour?"
John Edwards, organizer of the annual Wedge Cat Tour, marking its fifth year on Wednesday, was amused by the neighbors' alarm, considering his harmless intent. "Just show us your cats and there won't be any trouble," he joked.
Each summer, Edwards leads cat lovers through his neighborhood, stopping to see the resident furballs perched in windowsills, or pried off the purr-niture and toted outside to greet the crowd. Biographical details are shared, photos are taken, whiskers are rubbed, and the group moves on.
Over time, the Wedge tour — the only known neighborhood cat tour of its kind — has become a branded affair, complete with commemorative, limited-edition cat-tour buttons, tote bags and T-shirts. For safety's sake, Edwards has even made handheld "Caution! Cat Tour Approaching" signs.
The tour has drawn big crowds. Due to COVID-19, last year's event was virtual (an hourlong livestream of Edwards walking the route), but in 2019, more than 300 cat tourists viewed 50-some felines.
Further cementing the tour's status, the internationally famed (and grammatically maddening) internet meme site I Can Has Cheezburger featured the event, crowing, "Minneapolis, Minnesota, Has An Actual Tour Event Where You Go And See The Residential Cats In The Neighborhood."
Before John Edwards was the cat tour guy, he was a graphic designer moonlighting on social media as Wedge Live, a source of hyperlocal news and commentary about the pie-shaped neighborhood between Hennepin and Lyndale avenues, colloquially known as the Wedge.
Shortly after Edwards moved to Minneapolis nearly a decade ago, he began live-tweeting his neighborhood association meetings. The neighborhood had recently lost its longtime newspaper, and in its own way, WedgeLive.com and its associated social media channels filled the gap.
Meanwhile, Edwards cultivated another pastime: spotting window cats on his neighborhood walks. Posting their photos to social media drew lots of likes, and soon #CatsoftheWedge content on Wedge Live rivaled one of Edwards' primary political interests, increasing housing density.
In 2017, Edwards co-founded Neighbors for More Neighbors, an advocacy group that mobilized to help pass Minneapolis' 2040 plan, which eliminated single-family zoning citywide. He developed a reputation for turning City Hall machinations into digital memes, such as the shlocky satirical video "Planning Commission B-Boy Ultramix" and various montages mocking public commenters spouting NIMBY rhetoric.
Though seemingly unrelated, there's a link between his interest in window cats and zoning, Edwards said.
The reason window cats are "even a thing," Edwards explained, is due to his neighborhood's density and scale: an abundance of mid-rise apartment complexes situated close to the street. Surely there are window cats in Linden Hills manors and North Loop high-rises, but their concentration or level of visibility isn't the same.
"If you walk around here, you'll see cats all the time," Edwards said. "It feels like something that is unique to the Wedge neighborhood."
Edwards created the cat circuit in response to a walking tour of the neighborhood's stately Colonial Revivals and Queen Annes.
"It kind of came about as making fun of the idea that they're celebrating 100-year-old single-family homes, and asking, 'How do I celebrate the idea of lots of people living in apartments?' "
Though Edwards considers the tour "mostly just stupid good fun," he takes satisfaction in drawing a larger audience to go see cats than historic homes.
In 2017, on the first tour, Edwards led a small group in an uncharted meander through the neighborhood in search of random cats.
Since then, by pre-registering cats, Edwards planned a 1.5-mile route, which takes several hours to travel.
Cat tourists have seen hairless breeds on leashes, a long-haired diva queen called Nanette Cleopatra Philivant, and the necktie-wearing Saul Blackheart, famous for his love of Joan Jett and ability to change computer settings by walking on keyboards.
On one tour, a guy emerged from an apartment building wearing an enormous black-and-white cat-head mask to present his matching cat to the group.
In a lively thread titled "The cats of the wedge tour was nuts" on the massive internet forum Reddit, one participant noted that the cat owners and most of the cats were "surprisingly good sports" and described the event as having "a fun Halloween vibe." Another commenter clapped back the haters: "If anyone thinks this is weird, last year we had an Uptown Arby's sign candlelight vigil. Back to the 'burbs if you wanna criticize our awesome city!" To many, the event was peak Minneapolis: "Yeah if this doesn't exemplify the city idk what does," someone wrote.
Wedge resident Paula Chesley says her ragdoll cat, Billie Jean, who is "very social" and "a total ham," loved the attention she received on last year's tour. Chesley, too, enjoyed the event, finding it both "a really wonderful community-building experience" and a "mindful practice" to scan windows for unofficial "bonus cat" sightings. Plus: Chesley met several neighbors and Billie Jean acquired a bit of celebrity. "Now I'll be out watering the front yard and people walk by and say, 'This is where Billie Jean lives,' " Chesley said.
Nina Hale, whose cat, Rilke, has been participating in the tour since 2018, calls it "a pure show of communal eccentricity" and "a celebration of urban living." Hale, who takes the tour seriously enough to bring binoculars, said she loves the contrast between the crowd's fervor for the felines, and the cats who, well, basically don't give a crap. Rilke is preparing for this year's tour by practicing "his blank stare of disdain" while Hale looks forward to the "utterly joyous" event. "This is what the world needs right now," she said.
Paul Shanafelt, executive director of the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association (the official name of the Wedge neighborhood), said his organization hadn't received any complaints about the cat tour. "The Wedge is a pretty eclectic neighborhood, and it seems like the neighborhood has embraced the tour," he noted.
Edwards chalks up the tour's popularity to its weirdness, along with its wholesomeness and perhaps an outsize local enthusiasm for cats. (The Walker Art Center's Internet Cat Video Festival drew some 13,000 at its peak.)
Somewhat surprisingly, Edwards himself does not own a cat. And he has no plans to acquire one.
"It would sap my motivation to do a cat tour if I actually had a cat," he explained. "It keeps it special when I see a cat — I can get a little bit excited about every new cat I meet."