5 People From History Who Loved Their Pets a Little Too Much

Would you rather go to your father’s funeral, or the funeral for your bird?
5 People From History Who Loved Their Pets a Little Too Much

Gather close your dog or cat, and ask them to read this article about famous people’s pets. If your pet does not know how to read, you can read it for them, narrating the text out loud. If your pet does not understand English, translate it for them. It’s the least you can do. You should be happy to do it for them, if you love your pet half as much as the following people. 

General Robert E. Lee Made His Retreating Soldiers Find His Hen

The Confederate Army received regular shipments of chickens as food. In 1862, one of these hens broke away from the flock and ducked into the most impressive tent, which was owned by one General Robert E. Lee. She laid an egg here, and when Lee entered the tent later and spotted the egg, he figured this chicken could have some use beyond being immediately slaughtered as food. He named the hen Nellie. 

The following year, when Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia lost at Gettysburg, you might imagine that Lee would be occupied with thoughts about the war’s next steps, or about the thousands of his men who’d died during those three days. Instead, as everyone packed up to march back south, Lee noticed Nellie was missing, and he halted the retreat, demanding people search for her. She turned out to be perched inside of an ambulance. So, if they’d left without finding her, they still would have brought her with them, and Lee probably could have avoided stirring some resentment against himself. 

If you’re curious about Nellie’s ultimate fate, we have a story for you about that, courtesy of this guy:

William Mack Lee

Atlanta Constitution 

With so many medals, you know he’s legit.

That’s William Mack Lee. The Associated Press in 1913 said he’d been a slave till 1865, after which he remained as Lee’s cook, and then he went on to become a reverend. According to a book the Rev. Wiliam wrote, he was catering a meal in 1865 for Stonewall Jackson and several other generals when he realized the pancakes he’d planned to cook wouldn't be enough to feed them all. So, William butchered Nellie and cooked her. Lee ate the dish and only afterward questioned how William had got his hands on a chicken like that.

The story was a sad end for Nellie and a traumatic meal for Lee. However, many historians dispute William Mack’s claims, including whether he ever knew Lee at all. Given that Stonewall Jackson died in 1863, two years before this supposed chicken and pancake meal, you should doubt whether the feast took place. And if that account of her death is false, who knows — Nellie may be still alive today. 

Mozart Thought a Bird Copied His Music

Mozart completed work on a piece called “Piano Concerto in G Major, K. 4” in 1784. It lacked a snappy title (unlike that 1782 hit of his, titled “Lick My Ass”), but it did have a catchy theme, and Mozart guarded it closely. He sent one copy of the music to his father but otherwise kept it secret till it was ready to be performed.

Then on May 27th, he walked into a pet store and heard a starling sing something familiar. It sounded like something from the end of this recording here:

It was his music. How had the bird possibly learned it? Had it pulled the notes out of Mozart’s own mind? Clearly, Mozart had no choice but to purchase the bird and keep it where no one else could listen to it. 

The starling went from a spy to a friend. Three years later, when it died, Mozart held a grand funeral for it, and he recited a poem. “Here rests a bird called Starling,” he said, “a foolish little darling / He was still in his prime / When he ran out of time.” It continued for 18 lines more. Meanwhile, Mozart had skipped the funeral of his own father, who had died earlier that week. 

The mystery of how the bird learned that earlier concerto remains. Scholars say it’s entirely possible for a starling to be able to learn and sing those notes. The most likely explanation is Mozart entered that same store a few days earlier, absently hummed the tune, and the bird memorized it. 

A Chicken Was the Highlight of Flannery O'Connor’s Life

We have one more bird story for you. We promise it’s the last because if we don’t have at least one cat story in this article and also one dog story, cat and dog fans will retaliate with violence. 

Flannery O'Connor said the peak of her life was not anything to do with writing but came when she was six years old. She owned a chicken who showed off the marvelous talent of being able to walk backwards. This was such a noteworthy occurrence for the state of Georgia that the newsreel people came by to film the bird, with young Mary Flannery assisting. “Everything since has been an anticlimax,” she later said, a statement that we insist on interpreting as 100-percent serious. 

Flannery O'Connor from 1947

via Wiki Commons

What came first? The chicken or the disappointment? 

A decade later, in high school, she received a home economics assignment to sew a dress. This wasn’t nearly as interesting as her preferred occupation of writing funny captions on images, but she went ahead with creating an outfit. She sewed a jacket, a white shirt, gray shorts and a red bowtie. She sized these so they fit her pet duck, Aloysius, and then she brought the duck to class to model the clothing.

This sounds like the ending to “Mary Had a Little Duck,” a nursery rhyme to rival the one about the lamb. Actually, forget that. “Mary had a little duck” sounds more like the first line of a limerick, and we’ll leave you to compose the amusing final lines yourself. 

Dickens Treasured One Part of His Cat Extra

Some say Dickens was more of a dog man than a fan of cats. He is, however, credited with the famous quote, “What greater gift than the love of a cat?” We cannot find the context behind this quote and we therefore declare context unnecessary. 

His own cat, he left unnamed for a long time because it was deaf and wouldn’t answer to its name if it had one. His servants called it “the master’s cat” and spoke of how it would follow him around and sit by him during his sessions writing. Just like a cat pushing your laptop shut to make sure you give it attention, Dickens’ cat would snuff out candles with its paw to get him to look its way. 

Finally, Dickens did name the cat. He named it Bob. Here’s a picture of Bob:

Robert Kato

You’ll cut yourself no matter where you hold this.

Oh, that’s not a full cat. But after Bob died, Dickens had one paw removed and attached to an ivory letter opener. That way, when he resumed his work after the cat’s death, Bob’s paw would continue presenting a distraction. 

Lord Byron Built a Tomb for His Dog Bigger Than His Own

If your dog gets rabies, we’re afraid it’s time to put him down. That went doubly so in the 19th century, when not only was rabies the incurable disease it is now — they didn’t even have a vaccine, which can keep you from getting rabies after you’ve been exposed. Nevertheless, when the future Lord Byron’s dog Boatswain caught rabies, he insisted on personally nursing it with no thought to the risk of being bitten.

Boatswain died, and Byron built a tomb that would eventually be larger that the one that held his own body. Byron’s plan was to be buried in his dog’s tomb as well, but his family weren’t big fans of that idea. Inscribed on the stone is a poem that’s predictably better than any words Mozart wrote. It says that not only does this dog deserve all the grief dead humans normally receive — the dog is better than any human. When a human professes to love you, they just want sex, and when they claim to be your friend, they really want to con you. Only a dog is honest and noble. 

Boatswain's monument

Steve Dufour

Before Boatswain caught rabies, Byron had wanted to bring the dog with him when he attended Cambridge. School rules forbade this (just as Mary’s school banned lambs). So, he purchased a bear, apparently from a nearby fair, then brought the bear to stay with him. History is a little shaky on what happened to the bear afterward, or whether it for certain ever existed, but either way, the presence of a companion bear during these same years is just a footnote in the story of the animal he really loved. 

How many dog owners can claim the same thing? 

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