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Bottom-wiggling’ San Francisco swan, Blanche, has died

Blanche has died at age 28. | Courtesy San Francisco Recreation and Park Department

Blanche, the swan who captured the hearts of generations of visitors to the Palace of Fine Arts, has died at age 28, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department announced Wednesday.

Blanche passed away Jan. 12 at her home in Sonoma County, where she retired in July 2022 after a lifetime at the Palace of Fine Arts lagoon amid concerns about avian flu and lead in the urban soil.

The move was supposed to be temporary, but the recently widowed mute swan blossomed at the idyllic country estate, where she was reunited with her son Stanley, said volunteer caretaker Gayle Hagerty.

“She was in a beautiful place where she was so happy and she ruled the roost,” said Hagerty, who has been caring for the palace swans for 30 years. “The other swans recognized her as a queen and never one day passed where she wasn’t appreciated and given love.”

Blanche has passed away. | Courtesy San Francisco Recreation and Park Department

While mute swans are normally territorial and aggressive, Blanche was blessed with a sanguine, gregarious temperament. She charmed visitors with her proud poses and bottom-wiggling greetings. She had a passion for corn and clover, and a weakness for the occasional Cheez-It for dessert.

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“She was amazing. She loved people. She loved children. She thought anyone near the edge of the water was there to see her. People were mesmerized by how social she was,” Hagerty said.

Blanche was born May 5, 1994, at the Palace of Fine Arts to mother Friday and father Stella—who had been purchased as a female and quickly revealed to be male when Friday became pregnant the previous season. Blanche’s parents were deeply in love, even by mate-for-life standards.

“Their courtship ritual looked like a minuet. They walked in a circle on land, turning their heads in unison and touching their chests together before making a heart shape with their beaks,” recalled Hagerty.

In lieu of flowers, please honor Blanche by enjoying a park. | Courtesy San Francisco Recreation and Park Department

Blanche spent her early years on the water with her parents, her brother Mortimer, and her sisters Knuckles and Monday II. But tragedy would soon shatter their family. Mortimer mated with his sister Knuckles and became territorial once their cygnets hatched. In 2001, he killed his father and attacked his mother. Mortimer, Knuckles and their children were subsequently given to a breeder in Point Reyes.

For a time, Blanche, her mother Friday and sister Monday II enjoyed a placid life on the lagoon. But in early 2010, someone stole Friday. She was found six months later in the backyard of a private residence in the avenues and rehomed.

Then, in November of the same year, Monday was found with her neck broken. Scattered feathers and discarded beer cans were nearby, but the assailant was never brought to justice.

In 2011, Blanche was joined on the lagoon by Blue Boy, and they quickly became mates and co-parents to their resulting cygnets. Blue Boy was a devoted but protective partner, prone to chasing off birds and humans alike during mating season. The couple shared a love for Recreation and Park Department gardeners, particularly Emma Thoeni. Blue Boy died in 2021 at 17, leaving Blanche as the sole swan to grace the placid waters.

Blanche is survived by her son Stanley, caretaker Gayle Hagerty and countless admirers including Rec and Parks employees, city residents and tourists from around the world.

“Blanche inspired animal lovers and romantics at the Palace of Fine Arts for nearly three decades,” said San Francisco Recreation and Park Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “Her beauty and grace rivaled that of the Palace itself, but it was her extraordinary personality that won over our visitors. She was a perfect ambassador.”

In lieu of flowers, please honor Blanche by getting outside and enjoying a park.

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