GLASGOW, Scotland -- It is a strange museum of history whose most famous exhibit is a live mongrel cat. Meet 'Sister Smudge, the People's Palace cat.'
'Isn't she gorgeous?' cooed museum curator Elspeth King the other day. 'She's a real black-hearted Glasgow cat -- see, here's the black heart in the fur on her back -- and she's the most famous cat in Scotland.'
Not long ago when Glasgow produced a self-publicizing poster, it used a photograph of this nondescript white cat smudged with black. Smudge has been in a dozen magazines and was the cover girl for a book called 'The Scottish Cat.'
She's probably the only cat in the world who is an official member of a labor union. On special occasions, Smudge flashes her membership card from Branch 29 of the General Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades union. British union stalwarts, who call each other 'brother,' gave her the 'Sister Smudge' accolade.
Animal-loving Britain has a tradition of cats which more or less take over theaters, railway station rest rooms, even Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's No. 10 Downing Street residence. Its famous mouser, Wilberforce, died recently.
But Smudge has become almost better known than her imposing red sandstone museum with its huge conservatory, even though the People's Palace is a true oddity.
It's a pure example of Victorian paternalism. City fathers built it in 1895 to bring culture and enlightenment to the deprived working class. Thus its 'People's Palace' name, and its location on Glasgow Green, then surrounded by slums.
'The Winter Garden (conservatory) was attached to give slum dwellers a glimpse of greenery,' curator King recalled. 'It was filled with exotic plants to excite their wonder and admiration.'
These days the Winter Garden's cafe is a lovely place for lunch, and the People's Palace is a crammed, fascinating museum of local history.
It's a notably unstuffy place. Personal relics of Mary Queen of Scots are given less prominence than a life-size statue of Scotland's best known current comedian. Tucked under a Victorian skylight is a spanking new 600-square-foot mural depicting 200 years of labor union history.
But the souvenir most visitors take away is the museum's special pamphlet devoted to Sister Smudge, filled with purrfectly awful puns.
It speaks, for instance, of the 'cat-astrophe' when Smudge once disappeared -- a possible 'cat-napping' which even made the newspapers in distant London.
'The Lord Provost of Glasgow made an impassioned appeal for her return,' the pamphlet says, 'and even the police, who do not deal with felonies against felines, took all the purrticulars.'
When Smudge turned up unharmed, police escorted her back to the People's Palace. Sculptor Margery Clinton immortalized the heroine cat in pottery, and all 50 life-size ceramic Smudges sold overnight. Clinton had to make another edition of 500 smaller Smudges.
Smudge, who 'was appointed to her present post' in 1979 'to deal with a temporary rodent problem,' now is even playing a part in Glasgow's designation as European Culture City for 1990.
'Her new title,' the museum says, 'is Culture City Kitty.'
Last year the People's Palace had 407,060 visitors. Its 400,000th gave the museum a special treat. To mark his attendance milestone, the museum says, Olufemi Komolafe, 11, whose family is from Nigeria, 'composed a poem in Smudge's honor.'