M is for Mockingbird, Mastiff, Mules, and Mice
George Washington (1789-1797), Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809), Andrew Johnson (1865-1869), Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881), Grover Cleveland (1885-1889, 1893-1897) and Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929).
President Thomas Jefferson famously had a mockingbird named Dick. Of all the animals he had it seems he loved birds the most and mockingbirds the best. In 1801 when he moved into the President’s House (as it was known then) he brought his tame bird with him. He and Dick had a special relationship – the bird would sit on his shoulder and eat treats from the President’s mouth; Jefferson would let Dick out of his cage and let him fly freely around the study; they would perform duets with Jefferson playing the violin and Dick sitting on his shoulder singing. And finally, when Jefferson retired for the evening, Dick would hop up the stairs ahead the President on the way to their bedroom. (Representative illustration.)
First Lady Frances Cleveland loved her mockingbird very much. Not much else is known.
First Lady Grace Coolidge kept a mockingbird – until she found out there was a law against it in Washington. The law stated that if a mockingbird was kept in a cage or as a pet there would be either a $5 fine or a month in jail! To save her husband the embarrassment of breaking the law, she got rid of the bird. Whether she just shipped it off to their other home or she let it fly free is unknown. (Representative Illustration.)
President Rutherford B. Hayes had an English Mastiff named Duke. The American Kennel Club didn’t recognize the English Mastiff until 1885 so Duke may have been the first one country became familiar with. There are no known photographs of this large, yet gentle dog. (Representative vintage illustration.)
President George Washington is the first known recorded breeder of American-born mules. Although he probably wasn’t the first farmer to breed a jack (male donkey) to a mare he is nonetheless called the “Father of the American Mule.” The President began breeding mules at Mount Vernon after he was sent 2 Andalusian jacks by the King of Spain in 1785. One of the jacks died while crossing the Atlantic; the one that survived was named Royal Gift. Later in 1786 the Marquis de Lafayette sent Washington another jack and two jennets (female donkeys). MountVernon.org relates that in 1785 the President had 130 horses and no mules on the farm. But he became convinced that mules worked harder than horses and by 1799 he had 58 mules and only 25 horses. (photo credit by MountVernon.org)
President Andrew Johnson had the bad luck to follow President Abraham Lincoln in office and the first president to be impeached. He is recorded to have no pets while in the WH; however, according to his secretary President Johnson found a nest of mice in his room and proceeded to feed them. One source reports he left flour and water for the small rodents; another reports he left them biscuits to feast upon at night. Those mice may have been his only friends while he was in office. (vintage illustration)
And adding a little funny for you – since we are in the midst of a presidential election – this was in the paper yesterday – really apropos!