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Meet Mr. Magoo: JFK reportedly saved the life of Duluth's tea-drinking celebrity mongoose

Better believe that's Mr. Magoo with Lloyd Hackl in 1963

Better believe that's Mr. Magoo with Lloyd Hackl in 1963 Courtesy of Lake Superior Zoo

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy recognized the doctrine of mutually assured destruction, helping save us from the apocalyptic ramifications of the Cuban Missile Crisis. One year later, JFK recognized a hero mongoose from Duluth, helping save it from state-sanctioned murder. 

Meet Mr. Magoo, the Lake Superior Zoo's tea-drinking, death-defying celebrity mongoose. 

Mr. Magoo arrived in the Port of Duluth via a trans-Atlantic ship in the early '60s. The Indian mongoose was so tame, the Duluth News Tribune reports in its fascinating profile, that merchant seamen would enjoy drinking tea with him.

The ship's crew gifted Mr. Magoo to the Lake Superior Zoo, where he could live out his mongoose life in peace -- or so it seemed. The feds caught wind of Mr. Magoo and (accurately) deemed him an invasive species. Their recommendation? Death. 

Considering Mr. Magoo -- who was named by zoo director Lloyd Hackl, pictured above -- was a confirmed/confined bachelor by default, fears of his species' prodigious breeding were unfounded. So rallied the citizens of Duluth, who petitioned government officials -- including Duluth Mayor George Johnson, U.S. Senator Hubert Humphrey, and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall -- to save their beloved mongoose. 

Backed by at least 10,000 Duluthians, the so-called "No Noose for the Mongoose" campaign worked!

In 1963, Mr. Magoo received a full pardon from Udall. 

"Acting on the authority that permits importation of proscribed mammals including mongooses for zoological, education, medical and scientific purposes," Udall wrote, "I recommend that Mr. Magoo be granted non-political asylum in the United States."

The press release noted that "Magoo had become a popular attraction or something of a cause celebre." Udall reiterated the biological dangers posed by invasive mongooses, but concluded:

"However, under the specific circumstances surrounding Mr. Magoo, and the fact there is obviously no danger of further mongoose population increases from his bachelor existence, we have concluded that Mr. Magoo can stay but the rest of his species will have to stay out."

Rumors swirled that JFK personally issued the pardon, the News Tribune reports. When the president visited Duluth in '63, he lauded the democratic effort to keep Mr. Magoo alive. "[It] will stand as a classic example of government by the people," Kennedy declared.

In 1965, national TV audiences would hear all about Mr. Magoo. Mayor Johnson appeared on CBS game show To Tell the Truth to reveal the very-real truth of a mongoose folk hero in northern Minnesota. That same year saw the publication of The Duluth Mongoose, Jack Denton Scott's book about Mr. Magoo.

"Mr. Scott, obviously enthusiastic about his story, has skillfully combined local background and information on mongooses with the main plot," reads a 1965 review, which gently faults the author for including a fictional account of Magoo's adventures in India.

In 1968, Mr. Magoo died of natural causes inside his home at the zoo.  

Fifty years later, the epic ballad of Mr. Magoo won't soon be forgotten around the Twin Ports. The taxidermied visage of our furry champion is still on display at the Lake Superior Zoo. You can visit him from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursdays through Mondays.