Fido at the ALPLM

11/16/2020 nlc

By Dr. Christian McWhirter

When Abraham Lincoln left Springfield for Washington, D. C., on February 11, 1861, his family went with him—well, most of his family. One member stayed behind: the family dog. Fido got nervous around loud noises, so the Lincolns decided he probably wouldn't do too well on a thirteen-day train journey across the country. Instead, they left him with their neighbors, the Roll family. John E. Roll had renovated the Lincoln Home and his two sons, John and Frank, were happy to have a new pet.

Yet, even though Fido did not take up residence in the White House, he nevertheless became a well-known member of the First Family. A nation eager to learn about its new leader was delighted to discover Lincoln was an animal-lover, whose family dog was happily back in Springfield. Numerous photos of Fido survive to this day, including several in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum's collection. Even without any other evidence, their abundance proves his relative fame.

In a nation without mass media, imagery of leaders, their families, and even their pets was hard to come by. One of the solutions was the proliferation of CDVs (cartes-de-visite)—pocket-sized printed photographs that people bought to either carry with them or display in their homes. Fido was the subject of at least two different CDVs, both showing him politely posing for a Springfield photographer. Little did he know his image would sit alongside the day's politicians and generals in shops and collectors' albums.

 A CDV of Fido from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum's collection.

Meanwhile, the Lincolns were no doubt pleased to hear from the family barber William Florville, just after Christmas 1863, that their "dog is a live and kicking doing well."  However, Fido's fortunes eventually mirrored those of his absent owner. Following Lincoln's assassination in April 1865, Fido also met an untimely end. One day, as Fido wandered Springfield's streets, a drunken man attacked and fatally stabbed him.

Although Fido's story ended tragically, it also illuminates how Lincoln's rise to the presidency made every aspect of his personal life the subject of national attention. This is something we're used to now but in Lincoln's time photography was a fairly recent invention. So too was prying into the private life of a president. With Lincoln, even his pets got wrapped up in that attention.

Christian McWhirter is the Lincoln Historian at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Social Links