Many presidents bring a pet to the White House, but the history of the tradition includes unusual animal companions. Even those familiar with the secrets of the White House may not know exotic animals such as birds, large reptiles, and even raccoons once called the residence home.
Whether big or small, these unique presidential pets injected a little character and personality into the historic home - and often possessed pretty interesting names. And though some made trouble, others helped their owners cope with the toughest times in US history.
It's possible that famed outdoorsman Teddy Roosevelt brought more pets to the White House than any other president. His furry friends included a bear named Jonathan Edwards, Bill the lizard, a badger named Josiah, a pig named Maude, a hyena, an owl, a garter snake named Emily Spinach, a rabbit, a blue macaw named Eli Yale, a one-legged rooster, a hen named Baron Spreckle, and a beloved pony named Algonquin. TR also had five guinea pigs: Admiral Dewey, Fighting Bob Evans, Bishop Doane, Father O'Grady, and Dr. Johnson. Roosevelt owned many dogs, too, including a bull terrier known to bite.
One of the most bizarre pets to ever grace the White House was Rebecca, a raccoon belonging to President Calvin Coolidge. Sent to the White House for a Thanksgiving meal, Coolidge instead took a fancy to the little critter. He decided to pardon her and made Rebecca an official White House pet. Eating raccoons was a more common practice back then, with the papers expressing shock when Coolidge spared her.
The Coolidges' love of animals encouraged people to ship bizarre creatures to the White House. During his time in office, Coolidge received a small hippopotamus, a Mexican black bear, and a pair of lion cubs - which he named "Tax Reduction" and "Budget Bureau."
- Photo: Mathew Brady/National Archives and Records Administration / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
What's the strangest gift you've ever received? No matter your answer, it's probably less bizarre than the alligator French general Marquis de Lafayette gave president John Quincy Adams. With nowhere to put the large reptile, Adams chose the bathtub in an unfinished portion of the White House. Though the alligator eventually left the residence, Adams enjoyed shocking guests by showing them the fearsome creature.
Not to be outdone in the weird pets department, Adams's wife Louisa owned some bizarre animals herself. She kept a silkworm farm at the White House and regularly harvested silk from it. Louisa suffered from depression, and the silkworms helped her find joy.
Along with the roosters, the president purchased an African gray parrot named Poll for his wife. Incredibly intelligent animals, gray parrots can mimic human speech - and Poll eventually picked up Jackson's habit of swearing. The bird swore so much at Jackson's funeral, the presiding reverend removed it from the premises:
Before the sermon and while the crowd was gathering, a wicked parrot that was a household pet got excited and commenced swearing so loud and long as to disturb the people and had to be carried from the house... [Poll was] excited by the multitude and... let loose perfect gusts of ‘cuss words'... [Guests were] horrified and awed at the bird’s lack of reverence.
Possessing a soft spot for his grandchildren, Benjamin Harrison took time every day to play with them and the family pets on the White House lawn. The most famous of the president's pets was Old Whiskers, a tough goat who didn't always play nice.
The grandkids loved riding in a small carriage pulled by Old Whiskers, until one day he took off with the children still attached. He pulled their carriage off the White House lawn and into the streets of Washington, DC., with Harrison chasing after for some time before the goat stopped.
Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father and third president of the United States, had several mockingbirds in his lifetime. He bought the first from a slave for only five shillings and later owned two more. Jefferson's most beloved mockingbird, Dick, was reportedly quite smart and loving. The bird sang to the president in his study, and Jefferson allowed Dick to roam the room freely.