Nevada rail museum cat who became an internet hit mourned

This 2018 photo provided by NNRy Museum, Steve Crise Photo, shows their resident cat, Dirt, who became an unlikely internet sensation. Dirt—short for Dirtbag—died Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023 in the town of Ely surrounded by railroad staff, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. He was 15. (Steve Crise/NNRy Museum via AP)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The historic Nevada Northern Railway Museum is mourning the death of its resident cat who became an unlikely internet sensation.

Dirt — short for Dirtbag — died Wednesday in the town of Ely at the age of 15, the railway said on its website.

The semi-feral feline was a staple at the museum, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. His online notoriety, stemming from a Facebook photo an employee posted five years ago, led to the creation of Dirt merch including keychains, T-shirts, mugs and even his own coffee blend.

Dirt was free to come and go at the museum, which lies 240 miles (386 kilometers) north of Las Vegas. He was born in the railway's engine house, Railway President Mark Bassett said. His name came from his orange and white coat always being stained with dirt and grease and from loathing baths.

When Dirt's pictures first hit the internet, social media treated the cat less like dirt and more like a dignitary.

“We had a family fly over from China to LA, to Las Vegas, rent a car and drive to Ely to see Dirt,” Bassett told the newspaper. “And it’s like, ‘He’s a cat! He’s not on display.’”

The museum is known for offering train rides pulled by century-old steam engines and tours of the machine shop and engine house. Bassett said Dirt always came out during the tour, to the delight of visitors, who wanted his picture.

He said the cat undoubtedly increased attendance.

The museum plans to honor Dirt with a funeral service and two bronze statues, Bassett said.

Meanwhile, Dirt Jr. — or D.J. — another rescue cat, still resides at the museum.