McKinley’s D.C. pets: roosters, parrot

From Niles to the White House

Editor’s note: This is part of a weekly series marking the 120th anniversary of Niles native William McKinley’s U.S. presidency.


Special to the Tribune Chornicle

I was recently watching the Westminster Dog Show. The television commentators would talk about what president owned the dog breed as the dog strutted in the arena. I was curious about finding out if President William McKinley and his wife, Ida, owned any pets and, if so, what type. I was surprised about what I learned.

The McKinleys were the first family to move into the White House since Andrew Johnson to not have a pet. Johnson soon remedied that situation by taming the white mice that lived in his bedroom.

The reasons they did not have pets were many. The family, for the most part, since their marriage, had lived in rented housing in Canton, Washington, D.C., and Columbus, situations not conducive for animals.

Also, Ida’s poor health made it difficult for the McKinleys to own and take care of a pet.

A friend of the McKinleys believed they should have a pet while living in the White House, but one that would be low-maintenance and easy to take care of. He purchased for $1,300 a double yellow-headed Mexican parrot as a gift to the couple. McKinley was delighted.

The president named the parrot “Washington Post.” It is unclear why the parrot was named after one of the Washington newspapers. Was the president trying to curry favors with the newspaper and its publisher? Or was he making a subtle joke? We will never know.

The parrot was housed in a cage outside the executive offices on the second floor of the White House. McKinley designated the bird as the “official greeter” of the his administration.

Washington Post was partial to women, both young and old. When a woman would walk by his cage, the parrot would pipe up, “Look at all the pretty girls.”

The president considered the parrot very intelligent. He would entertain his guests by humming a few bars of a musical tune and Washington Post would complete the song. Among the tunes the parrot would finish were “Yankee Doodle,” “Dixie” and “Louisiana Lou”— a favorite song of McKinley’s.

The bird lived in the White House the entire time that the McKinleys were in residence. It’s unknown what happened to it after McKinley’s death.

McKinley also reportedly kept roosters during his tenure, but it’s unclear how many and where they stayed at the White House.

There is a myth that is found in books and websites that Ida McKinley had an angora cat when the McKinleys moved into the White House. The cat supposedly had four kittens just before the start of the Spanish-American War. Ida, as the story goes, kept the two smallest kittens, naming one of the kittens Enrique Delome, after the Spanish ambassador to Washington. She allegedly named the other kitten Valeriano Weyler, after the Spanish governor in Cuba.

Ida reportedly gave an order to have the kittens drowned as the Spanish-American War started.

Carl Anthony, a biographer of Ida McKinley, states the story of Ida killing the kittens is false. Anthony, in his research, did not find any records of Ida owning a cat when the McKinleys moved into the White House nor having a cat and kittens while living there.

Anthony found Ida to be too kind and gentle of a woman to do what she was accused of. He traces this story to anti-American propaganda from the Madrid media during the Spanish-American War.

Patrick Finan of Cortland is the retired former library director of the McKinley Memorial Library in Niles.