Saturday, January 21, 2017

Presidential Parrots

Donald Trump became the first president in 150 years to enter the White House without a pet in his household. Barack Obama did not have a pet on January 20, 2008, but he had previously promised his girls that a puppy would be forthcoming.

For brevity's sake, we're going to skip over all the assorted horses, dogs, cats, and even alligators that inhabited the White House. Alligators plural, as in more than one. But you'll need to research that on your own. Our interest is parrots. Presidential parrots. We thank the Audubon Society for compiling a comprehensive list of presidential birds.

Turns out presidential parrots are as old as the presidency. Although not as old as the White House.
Martha Washington famously kept a cockatoo at Mount Vernon.

The first parrot in the White House (circa 1809) belonged to Dolley Madison, a green macaw. Not specified as to species, but we're guessing Military macaw.

Probably the most famous, or infamous, parrot in the White House belonged to Andrew Jackson, an African Grey named Polly. Polly was know for his salty vocabulary. According to a witness at Jackson's funeral in 1845:

"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."

General Ulysses S. Grant reportedly had a parrot. Unfortunately, no information about the parrot is available.

The Golden Age of Presidential Parrots commenced in 1897 when William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt were elected president and vice-president. McKinley had a Mexican double-yellow-headed Amazon parrot, which he named Washington Post. McKinley was assassinated in 1901, elevating TR to the presidency. TR had not one, not two, but three parrots, including a Hyacinth macaw named Eli Yale, named after Elihu Yale, the 18th-century British merchant and philanthropist who is the namesake of Yale University. Eli Yale appears in a couple of photos with TR's 14 year old son Teddy, Jr:

The photos were taken in the White House Conservatory in 1902, which unfortunately was torn down that same year to make room for the eventual West Wing.

President Roosevelt himself kept a sense of humor about the bird. He wrote in June 1902:

“Eli [is] the most gorgeous macaw, with a bill that I think could bite through boiler plate, who crawls all over Ted, and whom I view with dark suspicion.”

After TR's presidency ended in 1909, a parrot void descended over the White House until Dwight Eisenhower became president in 1953. Ike acquired a parakeet named Gabby in 1954. Gabby, despite his name, wasn’t known to speak. Gabby died in 1957 and became the first parrot buried at the White House, buried by the gardener at the southwest corner of the executive mansion.

Two parakeets lived in Camelot when the Kennedy clan moved into the White House. Named Bluebell and Marybelle, the two birds were John Jr.’s pets. The parakeets lived in cages, although First Lady Jackie Kennedy was seen playing with John Jr. and Caroline in the nursery with the parakeets. Both children seemed to genuinely enjoy the birds, and when the family had to move out of the White House after the assassination of JFK, the parakeets went with them.

No parrot has lived in the White House since 1968. Along with innumerable livestock and dogs, most at his Texas ranch, some at the White House, Lyndon Johnson had a fondness for lovebirds.

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