A zoo at the White house cats, dogs, raccoons, and even bears and lions have visited the white house, but it was president Calvin Coolidge who turned America's most famous house into a zoo.
When Mrs. Coolidge discovered that it was against the law in Washington, D.C., to keep a mockingbird in a cage, she said, "I was reluctant to part with my chorister, but I was even more averse to embarrassing my country by the imprisonment of its First Lady"
These birds made quite a lively group, but they were not the only Coolidge pets.
Tiger and Blackie, two kittens, arrived next. Tiger, nicknamed Tige, often wandered away from the White House and needed a collar with the return address "White House" printed on it. Blackie liked to chase wildlife, which sometimes got him into trouble. But these frisky felines did not keep the Coolidges from inviting even more pets to live with them.
Their first dog to call the White House home was Peter Pan, a fox terrier. But Peter snapped too much at strangers, and White House visitors needed to feel safe. Paul Pry, a feisty Airedale, came next, but he also didn't stay long. The "dear rascal" went to live with the U.S. Marines, The President said they were the only people as tough as the dog.
Many more furry friends came and went, but it was Rob Roy and Prudence Prim, two white collies, who held a special place in the First Family's hearts.
Rob Roy, a gift to the Coolidges, stayed by the President's side, even during meetings and press conferences. Usually Rob Roy was well behaved, but at one particularly crowded news conference, he began to whine -- loudly! When the President discovered the reason, he announced, "Will you newspapermen kindly keep your big feet off my dog's toes?"
Prudence Prim was Mrs. Coolidge's constant companion. The First Lady had special calling cards printed with Prudy's name on them. When Mrs. Coolidge went calling, or visiting, she would leave one of these cards along with one of her own. On one occasion, along with Mrs. Coolidge, Prudy attended a garden party wearing a fancy ribboned straw hat made especially for the event and designed by the First Lady.
Where the Wild Things Are
But it wasn't just birds, cats, and dogs that made their way into the Coolidge White House. In his autobiography, President Coolidge wrote that "a great many presents come to the White House, which are all cherished ... [as] tokens of esteem and affection."
Rebecca the raccoon arrived around Thanksgiving. The President loved to walk her on a leash around the White House grounds. Rebecca lived in a specially built tree house. And one of her favorite games was sitting in a tub of water making bubbles with soap.
Although the President and First Lady loved receiving animal gifts, they couldn't keep all of them at the White House. A pair of lion cubs, a wallaby, a pygmy hippopotamus, a bobcat, an antelope, and a bear all found homes nearby at the National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C. The First Family visited them there.
Grace Coolidge once wrote that "one chamber of the human heart is set aside for the love of animals. I am unable to understand how anyone can get along without some sort of pet." And that's why she and President Coolidge were so at home in their zoo at the White House.
President Calvin Coolidge was the 30th President of the United States, from 1923 to 1929. He and his wife were born in Vermont and moved to Massachusetts after the presidency.
Photos: pages 40-41 (background): Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock; page 40: Bettmann/Corbis; page 41: courtesy of the Library of Congress.