Woodstock's Singing Mouse

Mouse, singing 1936.tif


Woodstock's Singing Mouse


A mouse, caught at the Chicago Industrial Home for Children in Woodstock in 1936, brought fame and a bit of fortune to the city and the Children's Home.

An article in Time magazine, December 28, 1936, tells the best version of the story.
"Singing Mouse"
"Inmates of the Chicago Industrial Home for Children at Woodstock were convinced last fortnight that a canary was loose somewhere in the building. Day after day they heard it chirp and trill. Day after day they searched for it high & low without success. Then one day the school manager heard the piping behind him, turned and beheld its astonishing source--a small, grayish brown mouse.
Captured, placed in a glass jar and named Mickey, the singing mouse became the wonder & delightof school and neighborhood. Even newshawks admitted after an audition that it actually sang. When Assistant Director Robert Bean of the Chicago Zoological Park called, it faild to perform. Nonetheless Director Bean, who had heard of singing mice before, offered $150 for it. Dr. Wilfred H. Osgood, zoology curator of the Field Museum of Natural History, also said that he had heard of singing mice, though he had never seen one. Declared University of Chicago's Dr. Maud Slye, famed cancer experimenter: "I have had 160,000 mice and I never had one that sang. If there is a singing mouse, I am open to conviction."
To the mouse, renamed Minnie after examination by Zooman Bean, came a supreme test one evening last week. Up to a microphone in NBC's Chicago studios stepped the master of ceremonies of the NBC Jamboree to announce "the phenomenon of the century...the only mouse in the world who actually sings." Into the studio marched the Industrial School's tall, gaunt Manager Oscar Alva Allred, carring Minnie in a wire-fronted box. Holding the cage before the microhone, Manager Allred poked a small piece of insulated wire through a hole in the box top, tenderly prodded Minnie's belly. As the visible audience of 400 listened raptly, out over a national network went faint, wavering chirps and trills. It sounded as much like a cricket as like a canary, but that Minnie really sang there was no doubt. After the broadcast a cage was fashioned of glass and cardboard, its bottom strewn with strips of cloth and paper for mousy nesting. Press and newsreel photographers crowded around, snapped perky, self-assured Minnie until midnight. A Chicago hotel matched the Zoo's offer for her. Manager Allred held out for $1,000, hoped to get it from Walt Disney, whose singing mouse escaped a few months ago.
How & why mice sing is a scientific mystery. Dr. Slye thought Minnie might have a respiratory condition similar to human rales. In 1932 Zoologist Lee R. Dice of University of Michigan suggested in the Journal of Mammalogy that all mice may sing, but on a pitch too high for the human ear unless the mouse has unusual vocal equipment. In other words, perhaps Minnie was a basso mouse.
Dr. Dice, president of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts & Letters, secured a singing mouse in 1926, has bred many descendents without producing another real songster. Last spring he reported to the Yale Institute of Human Relations the mouse's superiority to the canary as a musical pet. Observed he: "The musical mouse can be heard only 25 feet, so that the song is less irritating to the nerves and can be escaped easily by moving out of range."

The Woodstock Sentinel followed the story with several articles. It turns out that there were two singing mice, Minnie and a daughter. On September 15, 1938, both were on exhibition at the Methodist Church as part of the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Children's Home. Unfortunately, just a little over a month later, Minnie died at the age of two years, two months.

The caption on the back of this photo identifies the event as Minnie signing her contract for a year of appearances on an unspecified "radio chain." Herbert Gensch is on the left and Robert Kendall from the radio chain is on the right.

In the Woodstock Archives, the file folder is labelled "Woodstock--Biography--Mice, Famous."


Kirk Dawdy




Acme Newspapers, Inc., “Woodstock's Singing Mouse,” Woodstock Public Library Archives, accessed May 18, 2024, https://woodstockpubliclibraryarchives.omeka.net/items/show/1368.


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