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  • Debra Scala Giokas

The Pennsylvania Avenue Zoo

First Lady Grace Coolidge and her husband, President Calvin Coolidge, made a cool couple. He was shy, and she did much of the talking. And they both loved animals.

They had the most animals when they lived in the White House.

There were lots of cool dogs. Boston Beans, a bulldog; Calamity Jane, a sheepdog; Tiny Tim, a red chow; Peter Pan, a terrier; and Blackberry, a chow.

But the most famous dogs were two white collies named Rob Roy and Prudence Prim. Rob Roy sat in a chair next to the president and shared his cereal every morning. Rob Roy also attended weekly press conferences, and Prudence Prim never left the First Lady’s side. Grace even made Prudence Prim a straw bonnet to wear at a White House garden party.

There were lots of cool cats too: Tiger; Blacky; Smoky; and Bounder. President Coolidge would hide Smoky and Bounder in different places around the White House. Grace would always listen for Bounder’s pleading meow and rescue her.

There were lots of cool birds too. And they were allowed to fly around in the White House. Nip and Tuck, yellow canaries; Snowflake, a white canary; and Old Bill, a thrush.

Grace even had a mockingbird for a short time until she found out it was illegal to own one.

But Grace’s favorite bird was Do-Funny. Do-Funny came from South America and did funny things. Do-Funny would eat right out of Grace’s mouth and whistle and sing along with her.

Kind people from all over the world started to send cool animals to the White House.

One Easter, 13 Pekin Ducklings arrived, and Grace tried to raise the ducklings in one of the White House bathrooms.

There was Enoch, a goose; and Ebeneezer, a donkey.

The newspapers reported that the Coolidges had their own cool zoo on Pennsylvania Avenue!

Things got a bit crazy. A black bear was trucked in from Mexico. A wallaby (that’s a small kangaroo) flew in from Australia. And a small hippopotamus and lion cubs traveled all the way from South Africa. But these animals were too exotic to stay at the Pennsylvania Avenue Zoo, so the Coolidges took them to the zoo at nearby Rock Creek Park.

Things got even more interesting one November day in 1927. That’s when a raccoon arrived on the doorstep of the White House, all the way from Mississippi, for Thanksgiving dinner.

The admirer did not send the raccoon to be a guest at the Thanksgiving Day table. Oh, no. The raccoon was sent to be on the table… instead of the turkey!

First Lady Grace Coolidge and Rebecca the Racoon at the White House Easter Egg Roll,

Courtesy of the Vermont Historical Society

One Easter Monday in 1927, the First Lady brought Rebecca to the White House Easter Egg Roll on the Great Lawn. As Grace hugged Rebecca tightly, Rebecca delighted tens of thousands of children that day and hundreds of photographers clicked away. That was Rebecca’s most famous moment!

That summer Rebecca went on vacation to the Black Hills in South Dakota with the presidential couple and five canaries and Rob Roy and Prudence Prim. But Rebecca broke out of her cage and climbed the tallest pine tree. The

Secret Service agents had to coax her down.

After that, Calvin and Grace decided that Rebecca’s behavior was not cool, even for them. They brought her to the real zoo at Rock Creek Park where she joined many of the other animals who had been gifted to them from all around

the world.

Excerpted from Ladies, First: Common Threads.

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