Presidents and First Ladies are often uncredited for many things which they do.
And there are those who are blamed for many things they never did.
Like the legend that Dolley Madison started the annual tradition of the Easter Egg Roll persisting, despite the fact that no documentation of any kind exists to even suggest it, there is the story of the Angora kittens and Ida McKinley.
And the arc of the story continues happily with news of the Angora never owned by the McKinleys having a litter of kittens, two of whom were never kept by the First Lady and which she never named after the Spanish Ambassador and the Spanish colonial governor of Cuba.
When the U.S. went to war with Spain in 1898, so the short and dark story ended, Mrs McKinley ordered the two kittens who never existed to be drowned because they represented enemies of her husband.
Apart from the fact that Ida McKinley was exceedingly gentle, particularly about any living being that was especially vulnerable, the fallacy of the story rests on one basic fact: the McKinleys never owned, never watched, never turned out for adoption, never even left a saucer of milk at the back door for any cat, kitten or other feline.
Where did such a nasty story begin and why?
After six years of researching every available source on the couple, in the writing of Ida McKinley: The Turn-of-the-Century First Lady through War, Assassination & Secret Disability, the first biography ever written of her, to be published on November 1, this author concludes that it was just one of many small news stories generated as anti-American propaganda by the Madrid media once the conflict between Spanish and American troops began in Cuba..
Of course, no good bit of drama has even gone wasted in the media, even if it is patently false. So, in all likelihood, the websites of pet shops, Wikipedia, and anything presidential will be reluctant to drop the story and the McKinleys will be damned as cat-killers for eternity.
What they did have, however, was a big, singing bird named “Washington Post.” A large yellow-headed Amazon parrot, “Wash” kept on its perch towards the end of the Administration and was more a pet of the presidential executive staff at the east end of the second floor, where the offices were then located, rather than in the family quarters in the west end.
The parrot was famous for being able to sing the first few bars of “Dixie,” “Yankee Doodle,” and a popular song of the period that was President McKinley’s favorite tune, “Louisiana Lou.”
When the U.S. military official who had succeeded in his intention to be the first to set foot on Cuba first set foot in the White House, his children brought the first felines to live in the old mansion since the days of the Hayes family.
And although his popularized nickname is most closely associated with stuffed bears, Teddy’s cats earned a name for themselves in the annals of animals of presidents.
- Topics in Chronicling America: The McKinley Assassination (techlearning.com)
- Five Presidents Who Went to War & Killed Themselves For It (Part 2) (carlanthonyonline.com)
- North America’s tallest peak may be shorter (bigstory.ap.org)
- Adirondack Attic: Teddy Roosevelt returns to North Creek (northcountrypublicradio.org)