The Cool Cats of Coolidge (Cats in the White House, Part 6)

President Coolidge with one of his many cats.

President Coolidge with one of his cats.

This article resumes the series begun last autumn on Cats in the White House, previous installments covering the Fillmore, Lincoln, Hayes and Theodore Roosevelt Administrations.

The President and Mrs. Coolidge, their son John and two white collies Rob Roy and Prudence Prim.

The President and Mrs. Coolidge, their son John and two white collies Rob Roy and Prudence Prim.

A popular picture of Grace Coolidge and her raccoon Rebecca.

A popular picture of Grace Coolidge and her raccoon Rebecca.

Coolidge liked cats. But you’d never know it from popular history.

It’s the startling vision of two snowy collies or the cautiously comical one of a raccoon that come to mind when those who know their Presidents think about the animals who shared the White House with Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge, number thirty, and his refreshingly animated wife Grace

Beyond the furry white Rob Roy and Prudence Prim, and bandit-masked Rebecca whose sole public appearance before being donated to the National Zoo was the 1925 Easter Egg Roll, the Coolidge menagerie was extensive.

In the five years and seven months of the Coolidge presidency, there were a total of nine dogs.

Grace Coolidge walks either the Harding dog Laddie Boy, or his half-brother, the Coolidge  dog Paul Pry.

Grace Coolidge walks either the Harding dog Laddie Boy, or his half-brother, the Coolidge dog Paul Pry.

These were Paul Pry, an Airedale that was the half-brother of Laddie Boy, the dog of the previous President and First Lady Warren and Florence Harding. For a time, Mrs. Coolidge took care of Laddie, before he left to live with a Secret Service agent in Massachusetts.

There were also the chows Tiny Tim and Calamity Jane, small collies Diana and Ruby Ruff, and a black Gruenendael named King Cole.

Among the Coolidge birds were Do-Funny, a tropical, and Old Bill, a thrush.

Among the Coolidge birds were Do-Funny, a tropical, and Old Bill, a thrush.

There were also seven birds, canaries Nip, Tuck, Snowflake, Peter Piper and Goldy, a thrush named Old Bill and a South American tropical parrot called Do-Funny.

Among this crowd were also Blackie, Tiger and Bounder, three cool cats of Coolidge. It was the President, not the First Lady, who was big on cats. According to what is perhaps folklore about his youth, he saved several kittens from drowning not long after the death of his mother and sister and always had a close association with the species.

When they first married, they shared their rented rooms with cats, also a count of three, named Mud, Climber and Bounder. Other accounts claim there were also cats in the family over the years known as Smokey and Timmie, and that the latter was so peaceful he slept with a canary named Caruso perched at night between his shoulders.

Tige, the second Coolidge White House cat, with an executive residence policeman.

Tige, the second Coolidge White House cat, with an executive residence policeman.

Recalling one of those cats was a second Bounder, so-named by Coolidge who liked to hide the cat in odd places until her cries alerted the staff or his wife to her location and she was rescued.

Their second White House cat Tige was, predictably enough, striped like a tiger. This kitten was so docile that he allowed Coolidge to carry him on his body in the most peculiar manner, the odd sight of the President of the United States walking from the West Wing through the connecting colonnade to the residence with a motionless kitten draped around his neck being something the staff grew accustomed to.

Except for the family birds, however, the Coolidge cats were the most invisible of the President’s pets.

Unlike the white collies who accompanied the First Lady to practically every public event, the existence of the cats was a virtual state secret until the day an alarmed President of the United States issued a radio announcement to local Washington residents.

The scant sources on Coolidge’s panic over his lost cat are unclear as to whether he made the radio announcement himself (unlikely) or had a bulletin issued through the Metropolitan Police Department. A well-described Tige had escaped the gates of the White House. He was quickly found and returned, then outfitted with a collar identifying his home. A second escape, however, and the Vermont cat was never seen again.

Coolidge cat Blackie sipped his cream from the saucer of no less a person than the President of the United States. (catbehaviorassociates.com)

Coolidge cat Blackie sipped his cream from the saucer of no less a person than the President of the United States. (catbehaviorassociates.com)

Blackie seemed more domesticated, fond of slipping into the elevator when the door opened on the second floor of the family quarters, then finding the right spot on the cushioned seats within and sleeping until it was time to eat.

And eat he did.

The White House family dining room about fifteen years before Blackie held sway there.

The White House family dining room about fifteen years before Blackie held sway there.

One of the most famous of Coolidge stories was an early morning breakfast meeting the President hosted for congressional leaders in the Family Dining Room, on the state floor.

At one point, he silently but dramatically poured cream not into his coffee cup but the saucer beneath it.

Then, he carefully lifted the saucer up off the table and down to the floor.

Several bewildered members of Congress did likewise.

Then Blackie crawled in and lapped up the cream.

Before the Coolidge feline trio, it had been fourteen years since there had been a cat in the house, those of Theodore Roosevelt and his family.

With the departure of the Coolidges in 1929, so began the dark age of White House cats, a period of thirty-two years before another presidential family would bring one of those pawed and purring beings back, marking the longest absence of any chief executive’s feline since the forty-eight year period before the first one ever lived there, with Fillmore.

It is undocumented whether Blackie and Bounder returned to New England with the Coolidges when they left the White House in March of 1929. Given their close relationship with each animal they shared a life with, it seems quite likely.

A photograph does show that at least Grace Coolidge, as a widow, had a pet cat in the 1930s but it was neither black or striped, so neither Blackie or Tige.

At her Northhampton, Massachusetts home, former First Lady Grace Coolidge drapes a cat around the neck of a Boy Scout in the unique "Coolidge cat style."

At her Northampton, Massachusetts home, former First Lady Grace Coolidge drapes a cat around the neck of a Boy Scout in the unique “Coolidge cat style.”


Categories: Cats of the White House, Presidents and Animals, The Coolidges

2 replies »

  1. Thank you for a “cat lovers” story. These smart, clean & beautiful critters sure don’t seem to have the prestige of the “1st Dogs”. I recall my poor father’s initial shock/horror when I got my 1st cat at age 29. We had some very nice dogs growing up, those were the gentler 1950’s B4 Pit Bulls & Dobermans. I learned in time, that my Dad’s revulsion came from the feeling that cats were predatory scavengers who came on board to exterminate rodents. My mother was also apprehensive, it seems that in the Jewish “burb” we lived in, cats were invisible, just as they were in WH. My mother, however, fell in love with the beauty of Persian cats and even allowed mine to visit their home in FL during the winter. I understand cats are very popular, now in contrast to 1950’s. I think lots of “cat bigotry” comes from the notion of them being spooky critters w/occult stereotype of the “witch’s familiar”. Dogs were long seen as Man’s Best Friend, and had a long solid history of domesticity in America.

    For the many people who live in condos/apartments, single working people who can’t give a dog the attention they need, Cats are a wonderful alternative. I was amazed at how smart and well mannered they are. I had the pre-conception that cats could never obey a master’s command. I soon learned, my cat didn’t need any obedience training! He was beautifully behaved, and it seemed at times like I only had to telepath a thought to him, and he understood. Another negative preconception is that cats are less affectionate than dogs; I found that totally untrue, in fact, my cats have been much more affectionate than my dogs. In a way I can understand why the ego of a President might be weary of a cat. A macho man enjoys the subservient nature of a dog; I don’t think a man on the level of a President, would be amused by a cat reading his mind (LOL), nor would a President, often times needing to be in formal clothing at the “residence” would like having the cat come bounding into his lap, or snuggling by his side as he entertained a visiting dignatary.

    • Having never a cat as a companion but always interested in any one that I meet, I found your observations interesting – certainly I assumed they are less playful or less interactive with people than dogs are. I know they can be intense and even a bit resistant to being told what to do. And Presidents do have a habit of liking to tell all beings – humans, cats and dogs – what to do. Most of them, at least. 🙂

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