Cat’s CradleKurt VonnegutContents

13. The Jumping-off Place

Ah, God, what an ugly city Ilium is!

“Ah, God,” says Bokonon, “what an ugly city every city is!”

Sleet was falling through a motionless blanket of smog. It was early morning. I was riding in the Lincoln sedan of Dr. Asa Breed. I was vaguely ill, still a little drunk from the night before. Dr. Breed was driving. Tracks of a long-abandoned trolley system kept catching the wheels of his car.

Breed was a pink old man, very prosperous, beautifully dressed. His manner was civilized, optimistic, capable, serene. I, by contrast, felt bristly, diseased, cynical. I had spent the night with Sandra.

My soul seemed as foul as smoke from burning cat fur.

I thought the worst of everyone, and I knew some pretty sordid things about Dr. Asa Breed, things Sandra had told me.

Sandra told me everyone in Ilium was sure that Dr. Breed had been in love with Felix Hoenikker’s wife. She told me that most people thought Breed was the father of all three Hoenikker children.

“Do you know Ilium at all?” Dr. Breed suddenly asked me.

“This is my first visit.”

“It’s a family town.”


“There isn’t much in the way of night life. Everybody’s life pretty much centers around his family and his home.”

“That sounds very wholesome.”

“It is. We have very little juvenile delinquency.”


“Ilium has a very interesting history, you know.”

“That’s very interesting.”

“It used to be the jumping-off place, you know.”


“For the Western migration.”


“People used to get outfitted here.”

“That’s very interesting.”

“Just about where the Research Laboratory is now was the old stockade. That was where they held the public hangings, too, for the whole county.”

“I don’t suppose crime paid any better then than it does now.”

“There was one man they hanged here in 1782 who had murdered twenty-six people. I’ve often thought somebody ought to do a book about him sometime. George Minor Moakely. He sang a song on the scaffold. He sang a song he’d composed for the occasion.”

“What was the song about?”

“You can find the words over at the Historical Society, if you’re really interested.”

“I just wondered about the general tone.”

“He wasn’t sorry about anything.”

“Some people are like that.”

“Think of it!” said Dr. Breed. “Twenty-six people he had on his conscience!”

“The mind reels,” I said.

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