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Fido - The Lincolns’ Dog

Source: Henry Horner Collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
It was a common sight in Springfield to see Abraham Lincoln walking to the local market with Fido trailing behind carrying a parcel in his mouth. Fido was a floppy-eared, rough-coated, yellowish dog of uncertain ancestry. His date of birth was unknown although 1855 would be a good guess. Mr. Lincoln would sometimes stop at Billy the Barber's for a haircut, and Fido would wait outside with the other customers' pets. Fido was the type of dog who loved attention and would spend countless minutes chasing his own tail.

Mr. Lincoln was elected president of the United States on November 6, 1860. When it neared time to move from Springfield, Illinois, to Washington, D.C., he decided not to take Fido. He worried the dog would not survive the long train ride to the nation's capital. Additionally, Mr. Lincoln had noticed that the clanging church bells and loud cannons, which had announced his presidential nomination, had terrified Fido.

By all accounts Mr. Lincoln's son, Tad, protested. Nevertheless, Mr. Lincoln wouldn't be swayed and looked for a good home for Fido. Finally, the president-elect decided to give Fido to two neighbor boys, John and Frank Roll. They promised to take good care of Fido during Mr. Lincoln's term in the White House. The boys' father, John Eddy Roll, was a carpenter who had helped the Lincolns remodel their house.

The Roll family was asked never to scold Fido for entering the house with muddy paws. He was not to be tied up alone in the backyard. Additionally, Fido was to be allowed into the Roll home whenever he scratched at the front door and into the Rolls' dining room at mealtimes. Fido was used to being given food by everyone sitting around the table. To make Fido feel at home, the Lincolns gave the Rolls their horsehair sofa. Shortly before the Lincolns left for the White House, they took Fido to F.W. Ingmire's studio in Springfield to have his picture taken (see below). Mr. Ingmire draped a piece of fancy material over a washstand and placed Fido on top. Willie and Tad watched the proceedings but did not get into the pictures.

Reassuring news regarding Fido came from Illinois late in 1863. On December 27, 1863, the president’s Springfield barber, William Florville, wrote the Lincolns a letter saying, “Tell Taddy that his (and Willys) Dog is alive and Kicking doing well he stays mostly at John E. Rolls with his Boys who are about the size now that Tad & Willy were when they left for Washington.”

After the tragic assassination in 1865, hundreds of out-of-town visitors, in Springfield for the funeral, crowded around the Lincoln home. Old Bob, Mr. Lincoln's horse which had also been left behind in Springfield, was brought back to the martyred president's residence. In the funeral procession on May 4, Old Bob, wearing a mourning blanket with silver fringe, walked immediately after the hearse. Also, on this tragic occasion, John Roll brought Fido back to his original home to meet the mourners that were there. For more information on Fido, Click Here.

Sadly, Fido died less than a year after Mr. Lincoln was assassinated. (Fido had an unfortunate encounter with a man who was drunk.)

FIDO'S KEEPERS: John Eddy Roll (left) and his son, John Linden Roll (right)
Henry Horner Collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
For more information on Fido see the article entitled Lincoln’s Lost Dog by Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt in the February 15, 1954, issue of Life magazine. Another source of information is First Dogs by Roy Rowan and Brooke Janis. The photograph of John Eddy Roll came from Ida M. Tarbell's The Early Life of Abraham Lincoln.

I would like to thank Theodore (Ted) Ash for generously contributing the photo of John Linden Roll. John Linden Roll was a cousin of Ted Ash's Great Great Uncle, William Eddy Riggins. The photo was taken in 1875 when John Linden Roll was about 19 years old.

The information about Florville’s letter came from p. 165 of Lincoln’s Sons by Ruth Painter Randall.

In 2008 Ellen Jackson's Abe Lincoln Loved Animals was published. Ellen's attractive book is non-fiction, and it's intended for young readers. The book is about the animals in Abraham Lincoln's life and is beautifully illustrated by Doris Ettlinger. If you are interested in purchasing Abe Lincoln Loved Animals please CLICK HERE.

Looking for Good Sites for Kids? CLICK HERE.

Recent research indicates the Fido photos may have been taken in 1865, not 1861. For details please CLICK HERE.


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