When Rebecca the Raccoon Ruled the White House

Calvin Coolidge, 1925. Prints and Photographs Division.

Since we have new presidential pets, Champ and Major, a pair of German Shepherds, we take a quick look back at one of the nation’s most famous four-legged White House inhabitants.

Calvin Coolidge does not exactly enjoy a historical reputation for being a freewheeling sort of guy. He was a staid, serious president; gray flannel might have been a daring sartorial choice. But it has to be said that not even the boisterous Teddy Roosevelt — who let his kids bring snakes into government meetings — had a pet raccoon that ran around the White House knocking over plants, unscrewing jar lids, cavorting in the bathtub and generally living la vida loca.

That would be Coolidge.

As Library historian Margaret McAleer explains in the video above, some Coolidge supporters in Mississippi sent the man a live raccoon in November 1926, so that the first family could kill and eat it for Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, you may read that sentence again.

But perhaps led by first lady Grace Coolidge, the family decided to make it a pet instead, to the delight of small children and the White House press corps, if that’s not redundant (we kid because we love!). The raccoon, quickly named Rebecca, became a fixture at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The Coolidge family, who also kept dogs and canaries, were kind pet owners and quickly built her a little house of her own. They let her roam the trees on the White House property. Her adventures were routinely reported in newspapers and she gained quite a bit of fame, making a star appearance at the 1927 Easter Egg Roll at the White House, for example.

Otherwise, she often wandered around the White House at will. Her favorite activity, the first lady reported, was playing in a half-filled bath with a bar of soap. When Rebecca went out on the town with the first lady, she sported bling –  an embroidered collar identifying her as the “White House Raccoon.” She vacationed with the first family, escaped often, and pretty much ruled in the way she saw fit until heading off to a graceful retirement at the Rock Creek Zoo (now the National Zoo) when Coolidge left office in 1929.

Rebecca, living the life at the 1927 White House Easter Egg Roll, with first lady Grace Coolidge. Prints and Photographs Division.

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