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Spring 1999: Presidential Pets

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The Benjamin Harrison family poses on the South Lawn with their beloved pet goat, His Whiskers. Pets have long kept our Presidents company.   From George Washington's horse to Bill Clinton's dog and cat, these unelected White House residents have been among the most popular members of America's First Families.

Although our first President, George Washington, never lived in the White House — it was not completed until the Administration of John Adams, our second President — he is credited with owning the first Presidential pet.   President Washington was well known for his devotion to animals.   At his home, Mount Vernon, he had many traditional farm animals.   However, his favorite animal was his beloved horse, Nelson.   President Washington was riding Nelson when he accepted General Charles Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown, the battle that ended the Revolutionary War.   Like many future Presidential pets, Nelson not only witnessed history in the making, he was part of it!

In addition to his love for animals, President Abraham Lincoln, our 16th President, was known for his giving spirit.   He allowed his sons, Tad and Willie, to keep as many pets as they wished.   The result was a menagerie that included rabbits, turkeys, horses, and even two goats, Nanny and Nanko.   In fact, Nanny and Nanko even rode with President Lincoln in the Presidential carriage.   One special animal in the Lincoln White House was Jack the turkey.   Jack originally was on the Lincoln's dinner menu, but Tad became fond of the bird and pleaded with his father to spare Jack's life.   President Lincoln relented, and Jack became part of the Presidential household.   On Election Day 1864, while the Civil War raged close to Washington, D.C., a special booth was placed on the White House grounds so that soldiers serving nearby could vote.   President Lincoln, his private secretary Noah Brooks, and Tad were watching from an upstairs window when they saw Jack strut out among the voters.   "Why is your turkey at the polls?   Does he vote?"   Lincoln asked his son.   "No,"   Tad answered, "he's not of age yet."

Benjamin Harrison, our 23rd President, gave his grandchildren numerous pets.   Among them was a goat named His Whiskers, who frequently pulled the children around the White House lawn in a cart.   One day, while the President was waiting for his carriage at the front of the White House, His Whiskers darted through the White House gates, pulling the children behind him in the cart.   President Harrison ran down Pennsylvania Avenue holding on to his top hat and waving his cane, but the goat kept running, only stopping after numerous Washington, D.C., residents had seen the Commander in Chief chasing the runaway goat cart!

Our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, began his Presidency in 1901, along with six children and more animals than the White House had ever seen.   The Roosevelt children's family of pets included a small bear named Jonathan Edwards; a lizard named Bill; guinea pigs named Admiral Dewey, Dr. Johnson, Bishop Doane, Fighting Bob Evans, and Father O'Grady; Maude the pig; Josiah the badger; Eli Yale the blue macaw; Baron Spreckle the hen; a one-legged rooster; a hyena; a barn owl; Peter the rabbit; and Algonquin the pony.   President Roosevelt loved the pets as much as his children did.   Algonquin was so beloved that when the President's son Archie was sick in bed, his brothers Kermit and Quentin brought the pony up to his room in the elevator.   But Algonquin was so captivated by his own reflection in the elevator mirror that it was hard to get him out!

Quentin once stopped in a pet store and bought four snakes.   He then went to show them to his father in the Oval Office, where the President was holding an important meeting.   Senators and party officials smiled tolerantly when the boy barged in and hugged his father.   But when Quentin dropped the snakes on the table, the officials scrambled for safety.   The snakes were eventually captured and promptly sent back to the pet shop.   Alice, Quentin's sister, also had a pet garter snake that she named Emily Spinach ("because it was as green as spinach and as thin as my Aunt Emily").

The Roosevelts were dog lovers as well.   Among their many canines were Sailor Boy the Chesapeake retriever, Jack the terrier, Skip the mongrel, and Pete, a bull terrier who sank his teeth into so many legs that he had to be exiled to the Roosevelt home in Long Island!   Alice had a small black Pekingese named Manchu, which she received from the last empress of China during a trip to the Far East.   Alice once claimed to have seen Manchu dancing on its hind legs in the moonlight on the White House lawn.

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Spring 1999

Presidential Pets

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