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Pop Culture's First Viral Pet: Tommy Tucker the Squirrel

August 23, 2015

I discovered these photographs while looking through LIFE magazine archives, and was struck by how bizarre they are, but more fascinating is how they seem to forecast pop culture's fascination with animals being cute in human ways. In the early 1940s, LIFE reported on a story whereby a woman had adopted an orphaned baby squirrel from her backyard, they sent Nina Leen to Washington, DC to photograph the surprisingly lavish lifestyle of 'Tommy Tucker' the squirrel.

Mainly, Mrs. Bullis, Tommy's 'mom', focuses on dressing him in a collection of "30 specially made costumes". LIFE's original article goes on to say that sometimes Tommy bites Mrs. Bullis, but she doesn't mind, and generally speaking, "Tommy never seems to complain". Tommy was a full blown 1940s sensation - he toured the country performing for all ages audiences, and selling war bonds! Mr. Bullis was a wealthy dentist, and when the couple took Tommy on tour, they drove in a Packard Touring Car, accompanied by a bulldog that had gold teeth and wore a fez.

Stranger still, in 1949 when Tommy died, the Bullis family had him stuffed, the plan being that he would go to a museum so that future generations could marvel at his life of adventure! ...that didn't happen, instead, Tommy was handed down, relative to relative, until 2005 when someone willed him to the Smithsonian. It may not surprise you to learn that the executor of the will has still not heard back from their curator. 

Here are the photos that remain from Nina Leen's original journey to the Bullis family. To read more about Tommy Tucker visit Washington Post.

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