It was just before Thanksgiving in 1926. President Calvin Coolidge was in the midst of his presidency, and living in the White House with his wife, Grace, and children, John and Calvin, Jr.
An odd package arrived for the Coolidges. Sent by a constituent from Mississippi, it was meant to adorn the Coolidge Thanksgiving feast, but the president could see through the slats of the soap box, that this was no butchered bird.
The Mississippian had sent Coolidge a raccoon. A live raccoon, and a seemingly domesticated one at that.
The president, not a fan of raccoon meat, passed on the southerner’s gracious gift without much thought. Grace Coolidge, meanwhile, gave the animal a closer inspection.
This was “no ordinary raccoon,” she later wrote.
Less may be known of the “Sphinx of the Potomac” Coolidge, who was famously tight-lipped in social situations, than many other presidents. The republican lawyer from Vermont shared a bond with working class citizens, elected in 1926 on a ticket to clean up the scandals that had tarnished the abbreviated administration of his predecessor, Warren G. Harding, until a heart attack left Harding dead and Coolidge president.
Outside of the political arena, it was known that the Coolidges loved animals, and the raccoon would eventually become one of their own.
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As the Union Leader reports, “instead of eating her, the Coolidges, who adored animals, kept the raccoon as a pet. They named her Rebecca, and when she was indoors, she roamed the White House apartments. She liked to sit in a bathtub and play with a bar of soap.”
Rebecca became a popular face in the national newspapers, especially when she would thwart the presidents efforts to tame her. Her admission to the most prominent address in the country also stood in contrast to the reception raccoons received elsewhere in the United States, where they were either turned into fur coats and hats, or, like at least one Mississippian had intended, eaten.
President Coolidge grew fond of Rebecca during his stay at the White House, and reportedly stayed up at night playing with her. When the residence underwent repairs in 1927, the Coolidges even had a special treehouse constructed so she would have a place to stay until the work was done.
But Coolidge couldn’t bear to be away from Rebecca.
The president returned to the White House, retrieved Rebecca, and brought her home to Dupont Circle, a few blocks north of Pennsylvania Ave. Rebecca soon after showed up in political cartoons pointing out the president’s need for his masked companion.
Sadly, Rebecca and President Coolidge eventually parted ways. Shortly after Coolidge was seen with a bandaged hand, Rebecca was sent off to the zoo.
The office of first raccoon has remained unfilled to this day.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.