The story of a presidential parrot cursing at a funeral is almost too unbelievable to be true.
So we thought we had better check out the persistent story that President Andrew Jackson’s pet parrot started uttering obscenities during the former president’s own funeral and had to be removed.
Here is a quote attributed to the Rev. William Menefee Norment, who was presiding at the service, and found in Volume 3 of Samuel G. Heiskell’s Andrew Jackson and Early Tennessee History:
“Before the sermon and while the crowd was gathering, a wicked parrot that was a household pet got excited and commenced swearing so loud and long as to disturb the people and had to be carried from the house.”
The Rev. Norment goes on to report that the presidential parrot was “excited by the multitude and … let loose perfect gusts of ‘cuss words.’” People were “horrified and awed at the bird’s lack of reverence.”
Parrots, intelligent birds that can live to be 75 years old, are known for their ability to learn words and to mimic other sounds they hear, including phones ringing and babies crying.
Parrots do not have vocal chords but instead produce sounds by pushing air out of their tracheas. Jackson bought Poll, an African grey parrot, for his wife, Rachel, but took care of the bird himself after she died.
Old Hickory was one tough man. Not only was Jackson a war hero, but when a man tried to shoot him at a speaking engagement and the gun misfired, President Jackson, 67 at the time, beat the would-be assassin almost senseless with his walking stick.
Jackson outfitted the White House with a dozen spittoons, fought duels, and was the first president to open the White House for public visits. So it seems natural that his language might have been kind of, um, salty — but what did his parrot say exactly? No one seems to $%&! know.
U.S. Presidents Who Have Had Pet Birds
Andrew Jackson wasn’t the only American president to have a bird as a pet. The long list includes:
- George Washington’s wife had a parrot
- Thomas Jefferson had a mockingbird named Dick
- James Madison’s wife kept a macaw
- For a short time, John Tyler had a canary named Johnny Ty
- Franklin Pierce owned two Japanese birds
- James Buchanan is said to have had a pair of bald eagles
- Abraham Lincoln’s son Tad had a turkey named Jack
- Ulysses S. Grant reportedly had a parrot
- Rutherford B. Hayes apparently had a mockingbird and four canaries
- Grover Cleveland’s wife had mockingbirds and canaries too
- William McKinley had a Mexican parrot named Washington Post
- Teddy Roosevelt had a couple of parrots, and his son had a pet macaw
- Woodrow Wilson kept songbirds
- Warren Harding’s wife, Florence, had canaries
- Calvin Coolidge’s pet canaries were named Nip and Tuck; plus Coolidge had a white canary named Snowflake and a mockingbird
- For a short time, Dwight Eisenhower had a parakeet Gabby, buried in 1957 at the southwest corner of the executive mansion
- John F. Kennedy had a canary named Robin and two parakeets named Bluebell and Marybelle
- Lyndon Johnson had lovebirds
It has been nearly 50 years since a pet bird called the White House home.