by Ann Havemeyer
For many of our nation’s Presidents, dogs have been loyal companions and playful residents of the White House, often featured in photo ops and sometimes on campaign trails. Richard Nixon’s cocker spaniel Checkers turned the tide of public support for his vice-presidential candidacy in 1952. His famous Checkers speech was reportedly inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s impassioned defense of his Scottish terrier Fala against unfounded press reports that the President had left him behind on an Aleutian island and sent a US Navy destroyer to retrieve him. Fala captured the public’s attention and was very much a part of FDR’s public image.
Among the artifacts in the library’s Special Collections is a signed photograph of President Herbert Hoover with his beloved dog King Tut. Hoover had acquired the Belgian shepherd as a puppy, and during his presidential campaign in 1928 photographs of the candidate holding up the paws of King Tut were sent all over the country to counteract Hoover’s stiff public image.
In 1929 Frederic C. Walcott, a Norfolk summer resident and United States Senator, presented the photograph to the library. Walcott had a very personal connection to the dog which he explained in a letter to librarian Dorothy Terrell:
“The dog, Tut, lived with me for many weeks at 2300 S Street, Mr. Hoover’s own home, as he became nervous and irritable at the White House on account of the large number of people coming and going all the time, and jealous because of the other dogs. Tut died a few days ago, and the President and Mrs. Hoover and Mrs. Walcott and I are grieving over our loss. He was a faithful friend and wonderful companion. He was about eleven years old.”
With his protective instincts, the Belgian shepherd apparently patrolled the south grounds of the White House during his tenure there. When he died, headlines in The New York Times read “Favorite Hoover dog a Victim of Strain. Responsibilities of his position thought to be primary cause of King Tut’s death.” The Times reported that the dog had been “happy with the family of Senator Walcott of Connecticut.” Knowing that Walcott had cared for his dog, President Hoover must have been delighted to autograph this photograph for the library in Norfolk, Frederic Walcott’s ancestral home.