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c. 1944

When a cross-dressing squirrel captivated the nation

The most famous squirrel ever to come from Washington.

You are looking at the most famous squirrel ever to come from Washington. Exactly who his competitors were for that title is unclear, but that is how, for the seven years between 1942 and 1949, Tommy Tucker was known.  

Tommy toured the United States, and he did so in women’s clothing, performing a range of stunts and tricks. But Tommy had a hidden agenda — he was selling War Bonds.

Taken in as a kitten (yes, baby squirrels are called kittens), by Washingtonians Zaidee and Mark Bullis, the new bushy-tailed addition to their family was named “Tommy Tucker” after the ancient nursery rhyme.

But why did Tommy dress in drag? Well, if you’ve ever tried tailoring men’s clothing for a squirrel — and who hasn’t? — you’ll know that accommodating a tail in a pair of pants is tricky. Zaidee opted for dresses, hand crafting more than 30 squirrel-shaped outfits, usually with a patriotic theme.

Tommy took to the road in 1943, with Mark at the wheel of the family Packard. Also present was Tommy’s best buddy, a bulldog, resplendent in a fez and wearing a gold tooth. Everyone loved Tommy, though he did have a propensity to bite. At the peak of his powers, Tommy was ‘interviewed’ alongside President Roosevelt, and the Tommy Tucker club boasted 30,000 members.

In 1949, Tommy died of a heart attack. His body was stuffed, and, should you so wish, you can go and introduce yourself — he is on display in a legal office in Maryland.

These pictures date from 1944, when Tommy was photographed by seminal photographer Nina Leen for LIFE magazine.

An array of Tommy’s costumes
Nina Leen/Pix Inc./The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Wearing a baby doll’s dress and posing with a porcelain dog
Nina Leen/Pix Inc./The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
In a plaid frock
Nina Leen/Pix Inc./The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
A floral print
Nina Leen/Pix Inc./The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Tommy visiting a child in hospital
A butcher feeds Tommy a small piece of sausage
Nina Leen/Pix Inc./The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Tommy has a wash
Nina Leen/Pix Inc./The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Tommy asleep on his couch
Nina Leen/Pix Inc./The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
A box of dresses once worn by Tommy
John Kelly/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Tommy now resides in a plastic box in a lawyer’s office in Prince George’s County, Maryland
John Kelly/The Washington Post via Getty Images

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