Friday, September 21, 2012

Theodore Roosevelt and the Flying Squirrels

Theodore Roosevelt, unlike many of today's Republicans, was known for his conservationist views and his respect for nature and wildlife. He was instrumental in the creation of the National Parks system during his presidency, in the first decade of the twentieth century. Although some of his views, such as his love of big-game hunting, are frowned upon by modern environmentalists, for his time he was definitely progressive.

Roosevelt also liked to be surrounded by animals. During his presidency, his family had more animals at the White House than any other administration. The Roosevelt pets included a bear, a lizard, a macaw, several guinea pigs, a hyena, a pony, a badger, a pig, a hen and a rooster, two cats, and rat, a garter snake, and several dogs.

The Roosevelts had a rustic cabin called Pine Knot in Virginia, where they spent vacations during his presidency. One feature of the two-story cabin was a family of flying squirrels that nested in the rafters. President Roosevelt and his wife Edith were evidently fond of the squirrels, as he wrote in his autobiography,
We loved having flying squirrels among the rafters of our cabin. At night we slept so soundly that we did not in the least mind the wild gambols of the little fellows, even when they would swoop down to the bed and scuttle across it.

And a letter written by the president in 1908 shows just how charming and amusing the Roosevelts found the flying squirrels, even to the point of annoying at least one of their friends:
Mother and I had great fun at Pine Knot. Mr. Burroughs, whom I call Oom John, was with us and we greatly enjoyed having him. But one night he fell into great disgrace! The flying squirrels that were there last Christmas had raised a brood, having built a large nest inside of the room in which you used to sleep and in which John Burroughs slept. Of course they held high carnival at night-time. Mother and I do not mind them at all, and indeed rather like to hear them scrambling about, and then as a sequel to a sudden frantic fight between two of them, hearing or seeing one little fellow come plump down to the floor and scuttle off again to the wall. But one night they waked up John Burroughs and he spent a misguided hour hunting for the nest, and when he found it took it down and caught two of the young squirrels and put them in a basket. The next day under Mother's direction I took them out, getting my fingers somewhat bitten in the process, and loosed them in our room, where we had previously put back the nest. I do not think John Burroughs profited by his misconduct, because the squirrels were more active than ever that night both in his room and ours, the disturbance in their family affairs having evidently made them restless!
I suspect that this was the last time Mr. Burroughs accepted an invitation from President Roosevelt to stay at his cabin. But that was his loss!

Hi Teddy!


  1. That is awesome, I did not know he kept pets in the White House. TR was the best president of his time, learning about him totally opened my eyes up to US history prior to WW1. I thought the country was 'isolationist' as some revisionists like to claim but TR was anything but an isolationist.

  2. Eh, it's too bad you have to get partisan in the first line. You lose credibility right off. I'm not a Republican but it's a stupid thing to say, 'cause you divide us rather than unite us.