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Presidential Pet Display Finds a Place to Park

McLean's collection includes a sketch of the Reagans' dog Lucky, which includes hair clippings from the bouvier des Flandres pasted to the sketch.
McLean's collection includes a sketch of the Reagans' dog Lucky, which includes hair clippings from the bouvier des Flandres pasted to the sketch. (Photos By Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)
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By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 3, 2008

It is what the Founding Fathers might have called "a more perfect union": The Presidential Pet Museum in Annapolis is merging with Presidents Park in Williamsburg, creating a place where guests can wander through a garden of gigantic busts of all 43 presidents and wonder why Calvin Coolidge briefly kept a pet alligator.

The decision to merge two of the area's quirkiest museums came after Claire McLean, who has run the Presidential Pet Museum since 1999, decided she couldn't do it any more.

"I was too old to really get out there and network and keep the store going," said McLean, a dog breeder. "I started at 69. I'm 74 now and just didn't have the energy to do it."

She needed a home for her eclectic, nonpartisan collection, which included hair trimmings from Lucky, a bouvier des Flandres owned by the Reagan family, that were pasted to a sketch of the dog. The privately funded museum also included a photo of Herbert Hoover and King Tut, a Belgian police dog who is said to have died while in office; a collage of the Eisenhowers and Heidi, a brown Weimaraner; and a portrait of the Nixons with Checkers, among other attractions. McLean kept a Mr. Peanut statue, an allusion to Jimmy Carter, who had a dog named Grits.

McLean was approached by a friend of Everette H. Newman III, co-owner of Presidents Park. The park opened in 2004 after a lengthy legal battle with York County officials and historical preservationists, who looked askance at the plan for its 7,000-pound presidential busts, each about 18 feet tall. But the park, off Interstate 64, has been a success, attracting 50,000 to 60,000 visitors last year, Newman said.

"We kind of have a broad view of presidential history," Newman said. "Anything that has to do with presidents, we like to have it here at Presidents Park. . . . It's always nice to be expanding a new dimension to a museum here."

Given the opportunity to place her private collection before a much larger audience, McLean quickly agreed to give it to the park. Most of the collection's contents have been taken to Williamsburg, where Newman hopes to have them on display by Presidents' Day, Feb. 18.

"I think and truly believe in time it will take its place with the 'big boys' and national institutions in the world," McLean wrote in an e-mail.

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