William McKinley's Two-footed Friends

John Hartwell

Forum Host
Aug 27, 2011
Central Massachusetts
William McKinley was the last president who had served in the Civil War veteran. He was elected in 1896, and again in 1900, dying by an assassin’s hand the following year. During his term, McKinley apparently didn’t have a dog in the White house. But, he was not entirely wanting for animal companionship.

Just after his election, in November, 1896, he received a gift of a rooster from a Michigan Democrat (McKinley was Republican). The big issue of the age was hard money vs soft money. The Democrats, led by William Jennings Bryant, were pushing hard for hard money -- the Gold Standard, and the rooster McKinley receives was, appropriately a “gold standard game fowl.”
The accompanying letter said:

President McKinley also had a yellow-headed Mexican parrot named “Washington Post.”

He was a musical bird, and when McKinley would start whistling “Yankee Doodle,” “Wash” would finish it for him. It was one of McKinley’s favorite tricks, he demonstrated it whenever anyone visited the White House. The parrot was quite adept at it, as well. The talented bird also whistled, “Dixie,” and “Louisiana Lou,” one of McKinley’s favorites.

The one big 4-footed story associated with McKinley involved two angora kittens, offspring, it was said, of a presidential pet. The great international issue of McKinley’s first term concerned Cuba and other Spanish colonies. In 1898, the issue would be settled by the Spanish American War. Humorously, McKinley named the tiny new felines “Valeriano Weyler,” and “Enrique Delome,” after the Spanish Governor of Cuba, and Ambassador to the U.S. With the outbreak of the War, the story turns dark: Mrs McKinley is said to have ordered the two kittens drowned “because they represented enemies of her husband.” The terrible tale is still heard occasionally (Wikipedia, for instance), though it has been conclusively demonstrated that the McKinleys never owned an angora cat, or kittens -- or any feline at all, for that matter. It is believed the whole thing was made up anti-U.S. propaganda by the Spanish press -- to show what a brutal tyrant Bill McKinley was.