On March 4, 1873, Ulysses S. Grant’s second inauguration was the coldest of those held in March. The temperature at noon was 16 degrees. About 100 canaries that had been brought in to sing for the festivities froze to death.
Canaries have never had it easy. They are especially sensitive to methane and carbon monoxide, which made them ideal for detecting any dangerous gas build-ups. Early coal mines used them to test new coal seams. As long as the bird kept singing, the miners knew their air supply was safe. A dead canary signaled an immediate evacuation. Given the course of President Grant’s presidency, he might have done well to take the message of the dead canaries more seriously….