The Jazz Age Coolidge cats’ meows were a distant echo in the White House by the time the John F. Kennedy family moved there in 1961.
In the interim there was plenty a First Dog but nary a First Feline. In Hoover’s single term alone there were nine White House dogs. Roosevelt’s long dozen years of Great Depression and World War II brought little-known Meg and legendary Fala.
In both the nearly-full term he completed of Roosevelt’s last-elected one and the term he was elected to in his own right, Truman had a pet-less presidency, save for brief days of the ignominious Mike the Irish setter and Feller the cocker spaniel, sweet puppies presented as unsolicited gifts to a First Family that wanted no White House pets.
And, of course, during Eisenhower’s double-term stretch, the single greatest White House Dog in all of presidential history was in residence, Heidi the, ehem, Weimaraner.
And then, with the sense of potential historic change sweeping the old mansion the youngest man elected to the presidency, his barely-thirty years old wife, their three-year old toddler daughter and two-month old infant son, the media churned out daily reports anticipating new possibilities in this White House. Including the cat’s return.
Like many romanticized myths of history, it didn’t really turn out that way. Although a purr could be heard now and then, the feline known as Tom Kitten, later maturing to be redubbed Tom Terrific, was officially the cat of First Daughter Caroline Kennedy – yet he never lived with the family. This White House black cat’s elusiveness was no mystery. Tom’s purr led to Jack’s sneeze.
President Kennedy had a serious allergy to the kitty’s dander so his daughter’s pet was given a home with his wife’s secretary’s Mary Gallagher. With two sons about the same age as Caroline, she arranged play dates at her house for the First Daughter, who got a few hours of her cat’s company there.
A few times, when the President was out of town, Mary Gallagher brought Tom to work with her so the cat did, technically, have enough time to qualify as a First Feline.
Tom squirmed and gamboled a bit, brazenly in the Oval Office itself, not only with the First Daughter, but also the First Son, John Kennedy, Jr. and even First Cousin Maria Shriver.
The last known Kennedy White House visit by Tom Terrific the black cat was, naturally enough, Halloween 1963.
But that was that.
The LBJ family brought four dogs, a Coolidge-lookalike, the white collie Blanco, Yuki the scrappy mutt found hanging out in a Texas filling station and the twin beagles Him and Her. No cats.
The Nixons brought three dogs, Irish setter King Timahoe, Vicki the French poodle and Pasha the Yorkshire terrier.
Nearly eleven full years after the last of Tom Terrific there finally crawled about the place the next White House cat.
When Gerald and Betty Ford suddenly found themselves the newest residents of the White House in August of 1974, following Nixon’s resignation, their two youngest children, Steve and Susan, moved in with them.
The sudden transition from their suburban Virginia home into the presidential mansion led the family to take just a few treasured touchstones from their house to the nation’s house but otherwise they made use of the enormous warehouse of furnishings maintained by the government to outfit the private quarters.
A miniature sealpoint Siamese cat by the name of Shan was one of those treasured touchstones.
The official charge of First Daughter Susan Ford, Shan gingerly explored her new surroundings and was photographed several times within her first two months of residency, but rarely if ever seen again other than by the family.
By night, Shan slept with the First Daughter in her bedroom facing Lafayette Square on the second floor of the White House, while by day she was looked after by the First Lady while her daughter was at class in a local high school.
As Betty Ford explained in later years, Shan had a mind of her own and the First Lady lived in dread that the cat would tear some of the silk upholstery of historic chairs in the historic house.
Shan had a brief moment of fame, the White House sending out authentic pawprint cards when children wrote the First Cat for an autograph. Susan Ford placed Shan’s hand into the inkpad herself to create the prototype used in the printed card. Ironically, it is today considered one of the prized collectible items of that presidency.
And then along came Liberty, the rangy, friendly golden retriever acquired by the President and beloved by his family, named in honor of the forthcoming Bicentennial celebration.
Liberty took all the First Pet headlines during the brief Ford Administration, especially when she gave birth to puppies in the White House. Shan was never heard about again.
For the first time in presidential history, however, there was a transition from one cat administration to the next. Amy Carter, daughter of the man who defeated the father of Susan Ford, also brought with her a feline to the White House.
Also like the Ford cat (and that of Hayes) the Carter cat was Siamese one, named Misty Malarkey Ying-Yang, or Misty for short.
And, in a bit of cats and dogs conflict, it also became the first Administration where feline defeated canine.
At nine years old, Amy Carter was one of the youngest presidential children to live in the White House. Her three elder brothers already being married adults, she was an only child when her parents moved to Washington from their small Georgia town of Plains.
Although she quickly made friends at school and had a nanny, it was Misty who became her constant companion.
Amy doted on Misty who, by all accounts, was a peaceful cat. She slept in a room in the large dollhouse placed in the First Daughter’s bedroom.
Misty was never permitted to roam free through the house, becoming both as elusive and ubiquitous as the First Daughter herself, who often appeared at state dinners and accompanied her parents on several foreign trips and then might not be spotted for weeks by any of the White House press corps which lurked on the west side of the residential complex.
Later in their first year of residency there, the Carters were the recipients of a White House dog by the name of Grits.
He didn’t stay long, however, allegedly for antagonizing Misty.
This was one First Feline who ruled.
And while there may have been Laddie Boy stuffed dolls on wheels sold as kid toys during the Harding years honoring their Airedale, and black-painted steel Fala lapel pins for FDR’s famous dog, Misty Malarkey Ying-Yang is the only White House pet to have a song written for her.
The year the Carters moved into the White House, Hungarian-born American jazz guitarist and composer Gabor Szabo featured an original instrumental composition called “Misty Malarkey Ying-Yang,” on his album Faces.
The piece managed to capture a certain sound of funky jazz popular in what was otherwise a hideous period for anything stylish, the late 70s, in the sound made especially popular by Spyro Gyra.
Here’s the song:
By the time another full one dozen years passed and another cat came to live in the White House that sort of music was long out of style. But by then, the age of the White House cat had truly arrived with the most famous of all First Felines then in residence.