Throughout the Bronx Zoo’s history, it has been common to receive letters from people wanting to donate animals. However, in 1901, the Zoo received a letter from a not-so-common person:
Two months later, Theodore Roosevelt would become Vice President, having closed out his tenure as Governor of New York only days before he wrote this letter, and in September 1901, upon the death of William McKinley, Roosevelt would become the 26th President of the United States. Director William Hornaday wasted no time in accepting Roosevelt’s offer and inquired as to the bear’s origin. The response also seemed to jog Roosevelt’s memory that he knew Hornaday, whom he had first met while Hornaday was serving as the Smithsonian’s Chief Taxidermist:
What Roosevelt failed to mention in his first letter, and what he explained later in a letter to a friend, was that Jonathan Edwards had been named by his children “partly out of compliment to their mother’s ancestor [Mrs. Roosevelt was a descendant of the religious leader], and partly because they thought they detected Calvinistic traits in the bear’s character.”
Indeed, Roosevelt later went on in his Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter to admit that the “entire household breathed a sigh of relief” once Jonathan Edwards was out of the house. He called Jonathan a “queer-tempered bear” and euphemistically noted that he “added zest to life in more ways than one.” According to Roosevelt, the only members of the household who may have been sorry to see him go were the dogs, since “he had occasionally yielded them the pleasure of the chase in its strongest form.”
I haven’t found Jonathan Edwards featured by name again, but according to the New York Zoological Society’s fifth Annual Report, the Bronx Zoo did in fact accept Roosevelt’s black bear into the collection that year. And although the bear goes unnamed, Hornaday may have been invoking he of the Calvinistic traits in the following year’s Annual Report when he mentions that the Zoo typically attempted to “secure young bears and rear them in our own dens, taking great care to avoid the development of bad temper.”
Incidentally, Jonathan Edwards was just one example of the Roosevelt children’s skill at naming their many pets. Take as further evidence their guinea pigs, Bishop Doane, Dr. Johnson, Father G. Grady, Fighting Bob Evans, and Admiral Dewey. And for more on the Roosevelt menagerie, check out this National Park Service roundup.
Great story! I would love to see more stories like this about the early days.