Raccoon in the White House

Most Americans are familiar with the annual Thanksgiving tradition whereby the president pardons a turkey that would otherwise be served as part of the holiday dinner. One year, though, a president was sent an altogether different animal for his Thanksgiving feast. What happened to it became the stuff of White House legend.

President Calvin Coolidge was sent a raccoon in 1926 from a Mississippi man that was meant to be served at the White House Thanksgiving dinner. Unsurprisingly, the conservative Coolidge had no intention of eating this animal, and most people would not have considered them edible, either. So, the ring-tailed animal received a reprieve and was allowed to live.

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Rather than return the animal to the wild or sending it to a zoo, though, the Coolidge family decided to keep it as a pet. Both President Coolidge and his wife, Grace, were huge animal lovers and already had kept many interesting pets, including a pygmy hippo, a pair of lion cubs, along with more conventional dogs and cats.

The raccoon, which they named “Rebecca,” was a favorite of the First Lady’s. She posed for pictures holding the animal and also brought it to the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn. President Coolidge also loved Rebecca, and he could often be found walking her on the White House grounds with a leash or sitting with her in his lap in front of the fireplace on cold nights.

The wily raccoon proved a bit troublesome, however, despite the First Family’s love for her. She constantly tore up upholstered furniture and chewed on wood. She also tried to escape at every opportunity and had to be chased down by White House staff on a regular basis. More than once, she bit or scratched the president or his wife, and once received a night at a local zoo as punishment. But the Coolidges could not bear to part with the animal and brought her back home. Eventually, the president had a special tree house built for Rebecca that sat near the window of his office. This seemed to calm her down for a while.

In one final attempt to make Rebecca happy, the Coolidges acquired a second raccoon, which they named “Reuben.” He and Rebecca did not like each other, though, and the companionship did nothing to stop her from regularly attempting escape. So, in 1928, in order to keep her safe since she had even escaped the White House grounds more than once, she was sent to live in the National Zoo. The history books don’t mention this, but surely the Coolidge’s visited their beloved pet in her new home whenever they could.

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