How the cats of Dixfield, Maine came into a fortune : Planet Money More than 20 years ago, something unusual happened in the small town of Dixfield, Maine. A lady named Barbara Thorpe had left almost all of her money—$200,000—to benefit the cats of her hometown. When Barbara died in 2002, those cats suddenly got very, very rich. And that is when all the trouble began.

Barbara's gift set off a sprawling legal battle that drew in a crew of crusading cat ladies, and eventually, the town of Dixfield itself. It made national news. But after all these years, no one seemed to know where that money had ended up. Did the Dixfield cat fortune just...vanish?

In this episode, host Jeff Guo travels to Maine to track down the money. To figure out how Barbara's plans went awry. And to understand something about this strange form of economic immortality called a charitable trust.

This episode was produced by Willa Rubin with help from Dave Blanchard. It was engineered by Josh Newell. Sally Helm edited the show and Sierra Juarez checked the facts. Jess Jiang is Planet Money's acting Executive Producer.

Help support Planet Money and get bonus episodes by subscribing to Planet Money+ in
Apple Podcasts or at plus.npr.org/planetmoney.

How the cats of Dixfield, Maine came into a fortune — and almost lost it

How the cats of Dixfield, Maine came into a fortune — and almost lost it

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Hobo is one of the eleven cats who lives with Brenda Jarvis, the chief cat lady of Dixfield, Maine. Willa Rubin/NPR hide caption

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Willa Rubin/NPR

Hobo is one of the eleven cats who lives with Brenda Jarvis, the chief cat lady of Dixfield, Maine.

Willa Rubin/NPR

More than 20 years ago, something unusual happened in the small town of Dixfield, Maine. A lady named Barbara Thorpe had left almost all of her money—$200,000—to benefit the cats of her hometown. When Barbara died in 2002, those cats suddenly got very, very rich. And that is when all the trouble began.

Brenda Jarvis feeds three of her eleven cats. She's downsizing—at the height of her cat lady life, she was taking care of dozens and dozens of the town's strays. Jeff Guo/NPR hide caption

toggle caption
Jeff Guo/NPR

Brenda Jarvis feeds three of her eleven cats. She's downsizing—at the height of her cat lady life, she was taking care of dozens and dozens of the town's strays.

Jeff Guo/NPR

Barbara's gift set off a sprawling legal battle that drew in a crew of crusading cat ladies, and eventually, the town of Dixfield itself. It made national news. But after all these years, no one seemed to know where that money had ended up. Did the Dixfield cat fortune just...vanish?

In this episode, host Jeff Guo travels to Maine to track down the money. To figure out how Barbara's plans went awry. And to understand something about this strange form of economic immortality called a charitable trust.

This episode was produced by Willa Rubin with help from Dave Blanchard. It was engineered by Josh Newell. Sally Helm edited the show and Sierra Juarez checked the facts. Jess Jiang is Planet Money's acting Executive Producer.

Host Jeff Guo had to interview many, many cats for this story ... all in the name of journalism! Willa Rubin/NPR hide caption

toggle caption
Willa Rubin/NPR

Host Jeff Guo had to interview many, many cats for this story ... all in the name of journalism!

Willa Rubin/NPR

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Music: "A Peculiar Investigation" "Benin Bop" and "Tropical Heat."