Long before our nation had animal rights organizations and activists, some exotic animals took up residence at the White House.
The largest — and toothiest — of these are the alligators of not one, but two, presidents.
Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette received many gifts and honors during his tour of the 24 states in 1824 and 1825, but probably none more unusual than an alligator.
Accompanied, by his son, Georges Washington de La Fayette, the French general, who had championed the American ideals of freedom in France, traveled more than 6,000 miles via stagecoach, canal barge and steamboat during his visit. He was greeted along the way with parades, dinners and parties.
Gator: The Gift That Keeps on Giving
Now what exactly does one do with the gift of a live alligator, you might ask?
Well, apparently if you are a French general who led troops alongside George Washington and fought in several crucial battles including the Battle of Brandywine in Pennsylvania and the Battle of Yorktown in Virginia, you bring the animal with you to the White House.
Unfortunately, we don’t know what President and Mrs. John Quincy Adams’s initial reactions were to this unusual re-gifting. (Where’s YouTube when you need it?)
However, we do know that President Adams did what any president should do: He lodged the gator in the White House’s unfinished East Room and its nearby bathtub.
Sources report that Adams enjoyed showing the scary-looking animal off to disbelieving White House visitors for several months before it moved to a different home.
The White House’s Second and Third Alligators
Large reptiles made another appearance a century later at the White House during the Depression, during Herbert Hoover’s presidency in the early 1930s.
Hoover’s younger son, Allan, had two pet alligators that frequented the White House grounds, amazing and quite possibly terrifying guests.
The gators certainly must have kept King Tut, Hoover’s own German shepherd, on edge — not to mention the president’s Secret Service agents!