Monday, June 13, 2016

The Mayor’s Pet Porcupine

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

I’m writing a book tentatively called Curiosities of Elmira that will be published by The History Press next year. When I was doing additional research on Elmira’s bear pit for the book (you can read a little about the bear pit here), I found a delightful little story that didn’t make the cut. In December 1909, Charles Rodburn of Erin presented Elmira Mayor Daniel Sheehan with an odd gift: a live porcupine.

Rodburn left a note stating that porcupines had become rare in this area and that he thought the mayor might like to domesticate it because “it would make a great watch dog.” He alternatively suggested that, if the mayor didn’t want it as a pet, he could keep it in the bear pit because the spiny critter could stand up to the larger predators. I’m not sure if this was a politically-motivated message or a genuine gift, but it’s odd either way.

Mayor Daniel Sheehan, proud pet porcupine parent
Reportedly, Mayor Sheehan was happy with the gift and relayed a story of a friend who once had a pet porcupine in his orchard. The Star-Gazette suggested that the mayor might want to let this animal free in an orchard, too. There's no word of what Sheehan ever decided to do with his new pet, but I suspect it was likely freed in a suitable habitat (although I much prefer to imagine that it just ran around City Hall).

An orchard like this would be a far more suitable habitat for a porcupine than City Hall.
This odd story got me wondering if there was a time when it was more common to see porcupines as pets. The short answer: I don’t think so. I did find a few scattered references to pet porcupines around the country, but, understandably, the trend never caught on. There was one other notable local pet porcupine incident, however.

In 1933, City Clerk William T. Coleman had a strange complaint come across his desk. A man’s pet porcupine routinely followed him to the store and, one time, had an unfortunate run-in with another person’s dog. The dog owner complained to Coleman that the “porky” shouldn’t be allowed on the streets. Coleman talked to the porcupine owner and they agreed on reasonable limits for the spiky pet.

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