Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) knew the value of a faithful friend. Maybe that’s why he acquired a yellow mixed-breed dog in 1855 when he lived in Springfield, Illinois. The future President named the dog Fido, and they quickly became inseparable. Their connection would unite them in life — and in death.
Fido accompanied Lincoln everywhere in those first few years. Residents of Springfield grew accustomed to seeing the tall lawyer walking home from the post office with Fido at his side. Fido faithfully carried Lincoln’s mail in his mouth, leaving his master’s hands free to return the handshakes of passing acquaintances. If Lincoln needed a haircut, Fido could be found waiting patiently, just outside the door of the barbershop.
Fido quickly became a member of the family. While Mary Todd Lincoln was fastidious about the appearance of their home, Lincoln granted his first pre-Presidential pardons when he declared that Fido would not be punished for coming in the house with muddy feet. Fido also enjoyed the benefits of the Lincoln table, frequently receiving scraps from his master, who would secretly hand them to his dog when no one was looking.
When Lincoln was elected President in November 1860, the celebrations around the city gave the President-elect pause as to whether Fido should accompany the family to Washington, DC. The fireworks, cannons, church bells and parades terrified poor Fido. Realizing that life in Washington would be a nonstop progression of parades and loud noises, Lincoln decided the best thing would be for Fido to remain behind, in the care of family friends. With great reluctance Fido was entrusted to the family of John Roll, a Springfield carpenter, who had two young boys who would try their best to keep Fido company until he could be reunited with his master at the end of Lincoln’s administration.
As the Lincoln family bade a sad farewell to Fido, they left him something to remember them by. Fido had adopted a horsehair sofa as his favorite place to sleep, so Lincoln left the sofa with the Roll family, with instructions that Fido was to have first rights to it.
While Fido understandably missed his master, he soon adjusted to life in the Roll household. couple of years after Lincoln had assumed the presidency, his former barber wrote a letter to the president, filling him in on local happenings. He added: “Tell Taddy that his (and Willy’s) Dog is alive and Kicking, doing well, he stays mostly at John E. Roll’s with his Boys who are about the size now that Tad and Willy were when they left for Washington.”
When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, thousands turned out in Springfield to pay their respects as his body returned home for the final time. Among the well-wishers was Fido, who accompanied the Roll family to the cemetery.
It would seem that the connection between a dog and his master would end at this point, but it didn’t. Just as Fido and the Rolls were coming to grips with their new reality that Fido would never return to the Lincoln home, another tragedy hit. Just a short time after the President’s death, Fido died — at the hands of an assassin.
John Roll wrote about the incident: “…one day the dog, in a playful manner, put his dirty paws upon a drunken man sitting on the street curbing [who] in his drunken rage, thrust a knife into the body of poor old Fido. He was buried by loving hands. So Fido, just a poor yellow dog met the fate of his illustrious master — Assassination.”
It is said there is no greater bond than the one between a man and his dog, nor is there any greater understanding than the one shared between these two creatures. One can only wonder if Abraham Lincoln and Fido are now more inseparable than ever, joined forever in a way that only shared tragedy can accomplish.
As an additional honor to Lincoln’s beloved dog, “Fido” has become a generic name for dogs and one of the most common names given to favored canines.