By Ken Zurski
Theodore Roosevelt was known to capitalize the word “nature,” so it’s no surprise that when the 26th president took over the White House he brought with him a virtual zoo.
The Roosevelt sanctuary included a small bear named Jonathon, a pig named Maude, a lizard named Bill, several guinea pigs, a badger, a “one-legged” rooster, a barn owl, a hen, a hyena, a calico pony, and a blue macaw named Eli Yale, who flew in the White House conservatory, but often flew in the halls too.
(The origin of the bird’s name comes from Eilhu Yale, an 18th Century British Merchant, and the the namesake of Yale University. “Eli” is an informal name given to Yale graduates. Teddy was a Harvard man but admired the Yale School of Forestry, an institution founded by friend and fellow conversationalist Gifford Pinchot, a 1889 Yale grad).
Teddy was especially fond of Eli the bird because it had a reputation of being noisy and ornery to the staff. This pleased the president immensely. “Eli has a bill that could bite through a boiler plate,” the president delightfully warned.
In 1902, when the White House conservatory was being repaired, Eli was said to be in a rage. “The President’s bird has not hesitated to use some choicest terms on [the workers] whenever they encroached upon her premises,” the papers reported.
In 1909, when Roosevelt and the animals left the White House, the conservatory would soon be gone too. That same year, President William Howard Taft tore it down to extend the West Wing.
The current Oval office resides there today.