The cat who lived in the White House as part of the family of President Rutherford Hayes and his wife Lucy is particularly significant on two accounts. First, the relatively brief life and times of the cat were well-chronicled during its incumbency as “First Cat.” Secondly, it was the first Siamese cat to live in the United States.
For the sake of clarity and brevity, the story of Siam, the White House cat of President Hayes is excerpted here from a webpage of the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, in Fremont, Ohio. The research facility, which predates those of the presidential library system, is adjacent to the family’s extraordinary Victorian home which can be toured by the public:
“Twelve-year-old Fanny Hayes watched excitedly as the White House staff opened the Wells Fargo crate for her mother. It had been more than two months since David B. Sickels, a United States diplomat at the consulate in Bangkok, had written to First Lady Lucy Hayes. Sickels explained that when he discovered that Mrs. Hayes was fond of cats, he decided to send her one as a gift.
He wrote, “I have taken the liberty of forwarding you one of the finest specimens of Siamese cats that I have been able to procure in this country”. I am informed that it is the first attempt ever made to send a Siamese cat to America.”
Affectionately called Siam, the “mahogany-colored” feline adjusted rapidly to life at the White House. President Hayes remarked that the family’s menagerie – two dogs, a goat, a mockingbird, and the Siamese cat – “give a Robinson Crusoe touch to our mode of life.”
The good-natured Siam soon became a favorite of little Fanny and the staff. Allowed to roam the White House as she pleased, Siam enjoyed making grand entrances whenever the First Lady entertained guests.
In the autumn of 1879, while the Hayes family was at Spiegel Grove, Siam became seriously ill. The staff tried fish, chicken, duck, cream, and even oysters, hoping that Siam would respond.
There, Fanny’s playmate, Nellie McCrary, daughter of Hayes’ Secretary of War, visited the beloved pet. The next day Nellie wrote to Fanny, bluntly reporting Dr. Baxter’s grim prognosis that, “he thinks she will die and I do to[o].”
Lucy Hayes was an equal opportunity companion of animals.
The family dogs were as close to her as Siam had been. She also appreciated birds of all sorts, keeping pigeons and chickens alike at the family home.
- Chronicles of the feline war (lizloen.wordpress.com)
- Obama Smacks Down Rutherford Hayes, And Hayes Is All Like “Nuh-UH” (ken_ashford.typepad.com)
- A Guide to Siamese Cats (cats.answers.com)
- Allow Us Examine A lot more Close to Siamese Cats (catsoftheuniverse.wordpress.com)