Long before President Trump pardoned his first turkey, another US president saved a racoon intended to become his Thanksgiving dinner. The Washington Post has the wild story of how a raccoon sent to President Calvin Coolidge in November 1926 by a Mississippi resident promising a tasty meal became his beloved pet, Rebecca. This was "no ordinary raccoon," as first lady Grace Coolidge would later point out. When not confined to an enclosure on the White House grounds, the seemingly tame Rebecca showed a fondness for baths and wandering the various apartments. And the president showed a fondness for her. When renovations forced the animal-loving Coolidges out of the White House in early 1927, the president went back for Rebecca because, as Eliza McGraw writes, "he liked to pat her and to play with her at night."
Rebecca landed in a zoo soon after Coolidge—who also kept lion cubs, a miniature hippo, and a goose—was spotted with a bandaged hand. But she was back at the White House by Easter, sporting a collar and nameplate as the first lady carried her around. A zoo became Rebecca's permanent home as the Coolidges left the White House in 1929, but there's no need for pity. Rebecca was lucky to escape the tradition of raccoon-eating, begun with Native Americans and passed to enslaved Africans, that "saturated the national food-scape, as westward settlement across the Appalachians met the northward march of newly freed African Americans," Luke Fater writes at Atlas Obscura. It continues today. "They literally serve raccoon. And you're supposed to eat some," GOP Rep. Rick Crawford told Roll Call from Arkansas in 2014. "That's the tradition." (Read more raccoons stories.)