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Presidential pets: Calvin Coolidge's White House raccoon

All the presidents' pets: Calvin Coolidge's White House raccoon
All the presidents' pets: Calvin Coolidge's White House raccoon 02:05

Known as "Silent Cal," President Calvin Coolidge was a man of few words, but many pets. The Coolidges were known for being animal lovers, which is why people sent them animals as presents, said Andrew Hager, historian-in-residence at the Maryland-based Presidential Pet Museum.

"Harvey Firestone, the tire magnate, gave him a pygmy hippo," Hager said.

Others gave lion cubs, a black bear, even a wallaby; yes, the Coolidge White House was really hopping!

But while most of those were shipped off to the zoo, there was an unlikely exception: "One of Calvin Coolidge's supporters from Mississippi decided to send the Coolidges a Thanksgiving dinner, and what he sent them was a live raccoon," Hager said. 

"Have you ever tried raccoon?" asked correspondent Mo Rocca.

"I have not tried raccoon!" Hager laughed.

"I have. Tastes like chicken."

But for the Coolidges, that idea was OFF the table. They decided to keep the raccoon instead. So, Coolidge gave her a name: Rebecca. 

First lady Grace Coolidge with Rebecca the Raccoon at the White House Easter Egg Roll in 1927.  Library of Congress

And then he gave her some bling.

"So, Rebecca had jewelry?" asked Rocca.

"Yes, she had a handmade collar, actually, and it said, 'White House Raccoon' on it," Hager said.

Now, the press was pretty rough on Rebecca; the Cleveland Plain Dealer called her the most obstreperous of all Coolidge's pets. "That is tough, to be called obstreperous," Hager noted.

The tabloids go after Rebecca the Raccoon. CBS News

Tougher still was the gossip about Rebecca's love life: "They got her a male raccoon, named Reuben. But Rebecca and Reuben did not get along at all," Hager said.

Rebecca Coolidge finally left the White House, along with the rest of the family, in 1929.  But not without leaving her mark on presidential pet history.

Hager said, "When you go back and you look at the pets that presidents have had since Coolidge, there's nothing quite as unusual as a raccoon."

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Story produced by Amiel Weisfogel. Editor: Carol Ross. 

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