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The William Howard Taft Cameo

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Photo Credit: David July — Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) crossing the lawn just west of the United States Capitol (1811/1866) House Chamber in broad daylight, Washington, District of Columbia: 02 February 2014

Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) crossing the lawn just west of the United States Capitol (1811/1866) House Chamber in broad daylight.

Near Southwest Drive at First Street SW, Washington, District of Columbia: 02 February 2014


part of the United States Capitol album

As Erik and I walked the paths around the United States Capitol just west of the House Chamber, something in the grass between us and the building caught my eye. Moving closer down and to the edge of the sidewalk, where a fence keeps people off the grass in this area, we could see that it was a Virginia opossum.

Photo Credit: David July — Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) crossing the lawn just west of the United States Capitol (1811/1866) House Chamber in broad daylight, Washington, District of Columbia: 02 February 2014

The only marsupial in North America north of Mexico, the Virginia or North American opossum is generally nocturnal. While certainly not uncommon in urban areas where greater opportunities for food exist, I was a bit surprised to see this opossum on the grounds of the Capitol in the middle of the afternoon.

Photo Credit: David July — Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) crossing the lawn just west of the United States Capitol (1811/1866) House Chamber in broad daylight, Washington, District of Columbia: 02 February 2014

We watched it make its way across the lawn, moving away from the building and toward a nearby tree. It paused for a moment to check us out but then continued on as before. A woman walking by stopped to look and asked us what kind of animal it was. I got the impression that she had never seen one before and was possibly a tourist from abroad.

Photo Credit: David July — Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) crossing the lawn just west of the United States Capitol (1811/1866) House Chamber in broad daylight, Washington, District of Columbia: 02 February 2014

The opossum stopped when it got to the tree it was seemingly walking toward. I expected it to climb the tree at this point but it just sat there. Unfortunately, we were on a tight schedule to rendezvous with a Capitol staffer and could not hang out to watch the opossum further and see what it did next.

Photo Credit: David July — Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) crossing the lawn just west of the United States Capitol (1811/1866) House Chamber in broad daylight, Washington, District of Columbia: 02 February 2014

Due to the success of Morris Michtom and his stuffed bear named after President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt, another toy company decided to try and recreate the same magic in 1908. Their "Billy Possum" plush toy design was instead after William Howard Taft, Roosevelt's likely successor.

Although Billy Possum does appear in several political cartoons and Taft was indeed elected to office, the opossum toy failed to capture the public's attention as the teddy bear had only years earlier.

Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July

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