President Taft Ate a Lot of Possums

Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

When I wrote about White House Thanksgiving menus earlier this week, lots of readers noted the detail about President Taft having served a giant possum along with a turkey.

What I didn’t mention was that the president’s penchant for possums was a pretty big cultural thing during his presidency. When hunters in Texas captured a rare white possum in 1909, they sent it to Taft. Another time, after eating a possum in Georgia, the people of Louisiana were determined to get Taft to eat alligator. “It is no part of the president's duty to eat strange foods merely to satisfy neighborhood pride,” The New York Times wrote. “We earnestly beg Mr. Taft to stop with the 'possum.”

But my favorite possum story about Taft comes from the man himself. The president claimed that he was once served a roast possum that showed up still alive on his platter. What bothered Taft most, according to the Times, was the animal’s “reproachful look.”

Here’s the original clipping from the newspaper’s archive: