For President “Teddy-Bear” Roosevelt’s Home of Origin: “Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site”
After the election this year (http://bit.ly/2fwNhAQ) I was good for nothing. My love of government, politics, and the presidency seemed lost forever. I needed to do something to remember a more positive time, a time when good men worked hard to accomplish what seemed impossible. That’s when I knew I would be spending Veterans Day at Theodore Roosevelt’s Birthplace.
The National Park Service spent over a year restoring this enormous brownstone and it reopened to the public on October 29. I had been counting down to this event ever since I went to see his summer home, Sagamore Hill, in Oyster Bay, Long Island (http://bit.ly/2aO4LZM) last fall.
It was a gorgeous day to drive into Manhattan and I was spending it with two of my favorite people, my niece and nephew. When I told them the plan for the day they were so excited. I had no idea what they would think but they were excited to do something different. They were absorbing facts as fast as I could spit them out. We were out to prove that the park ranger giving our tour didn’t have much over us.
We arrived right before a tour began but we still had plenty of time to hit up the gift shop, watch a few minutes of the video they were playing, and look at all of the artifacts on display. This magnificent structure is not original to the time Teddy Roosevelt and his family lived there, which was until he turned fourteen. It had been knocked down some time ago and then rebuilt to the exact specifications. The Roosevelt family returned the furniture and belongings that existed during the time they lived there. Teddy lived here with his parents, three siblings, and aunt who acted as the nanny.
The home his family moved into after this has sadly been torn down as per the Roosevelt family. They believed it to be haunted as Teddy’s father died there as well as his mother and first wife (who died during childbirth). The women shockingly died eight hours apart on the same day. I guess I would have torn that house down when I left it too. It had been located about thirty blocks or so from where we visited. I can only imagine what that house looked like.
When you come upon the enormous brownstone it seems out of place on the modern street. But it made me long for the time when these houses would have been stacked up side by side for rows as far as the eye can see.
The ground floor acts as the visitor center and it is where you begin your journey. Immediately both the kids and I pictured what it would have been like to live in this four-floor mansion. However disappointingly, the fourth floor was for the children’s bedrooms, which have now been converted to offices, which are not on the tour. I absolutely HATE when that happens.
The ground floor is big enough. Originally the kitchen was down there and the food was brought up to the dining room, which seated twelve, on the second floor via a dumbwaiter. That is high living.
The library, which was also the first location of the Roosevelt Museum of Natural History (later to become the A.M.N.H. on Fifth Avenue), showcased many of the books the Roosevelt’s read. The best feature in this room is the tiny velvet chair that Teddy had gotten specifically for him. He was highly asthmatic as a child and often too sick to go outdoors so he spent the most amount of time at home. The family’s couches were made with horsehair as was typical of the day because of its durability but poor Teddy was allergic. Thus he had his own royal throne.
By far my favorite room was the one that looked the most like it was taken directly from Versailles. This blue room with the family piano and floor length mirror is the stuff I dream about, elegant yet not overdone.
On the third floor there was a playroom, which also had the family cradle and nurse’s bed next to it. There was a door that led outside. During the President’s childhood there was a playground structure for when the kids needed some fresh air. There were even weights as T.R.’s father wanted him to stay strong as possible to help his weakened body.
The final room of the tour was a bedroom that Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt shared. It was also the room where all of the children were born. A creepy thought but typical of the time. I remember seeing the one Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born in at his family’s home, Springwood, in Hyde Park, (http://bit.ly/2gqdzZX). I guess after that it remained empty. They certainly had rooms to spare.
On each floor as I made my way up I was impressed with the black and white tile floor. It was so stylish. It didn’t distract from the ornate woodwork that covered the walls and railings. Every Roosevelt seemed to have a love of beautiful woodwork. If you visit Sagamore Hill as I did you, will die when you see what they have in store for you. I kept rubbing my hands all over it. The detail is something I cannot get over.
Overall each room in this historic house (http://bit.ly/2guWYBy) has its own distinctive style and a pair of heavy-duty curtains that could be drawn for privacy. The colors and materials were breath taking. The wallpaper was so gorgeous I was taking photos just of that at some point. Everything was the best of the best but it still had a very homey feel. You could picture the family living there and actually using the rooms. It certainly did not give off a vibe that any room was simply for show. The grandeur they could afford meshed completely with their way of life. I imagine there were many happy times spent there. Even I have a happy memory of my own now.
Teddy Roosevelt was naturally the fun president, no pun intended. A lover of animals and one of the men behind the American Museum of Natural History, he let his children have numerous interesting pets while they lived inside the White House. His six children had a hyena, lizard, birds, dogs, cats, and a pony that his son once let ride in the elevator to visit his brother who was in bed sick at that time. T.R. must have gotten such a kick out of that. Speaking of the White House, it was T.R. who officially named it that.
His other brilliant ideas included creating the U.S. Navy and establishing, thus protecting the National Parks. No wonder he was the first President to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. There is nothing this man couldn’t or didn’t do.
Another honor was the creation of a toy that is still near and dear to the hearts of children everywhere, the teddy bear. It was so great to see one of the original teddy bears on display. I got to convey the story to the kids who were fascinated. We just so happen to visit near the anniversary of its creation on November 14, 1902. Coincidently it was displayed next to the book T.R. had in his shirt pocket when a crazed gunmen took a shot at him while he was giving a speech to a public crowd. It was that book that saved his life and thus it is being saved in his childhood home.
My niece especially loved this story so when she relayed this story to her teacher and kindergarten class this president’s name had changed for good. She so loved her President TeddyBear Roosevelt that I too have decided to call him that from now on.
A little known fact, but one day in 1865, a seven-year-old Teddy Roosevelt was at his grandfather’s home looking out a window when a historical photo was snapped. Although the significance and photo itself wouldn’t be known until much later, it was on that day when T.R. was photographed watching President Lincoln’s coffin procession down the block. At the time it was taken to show as a symbol of the profound effect of the moment. It wasn’t until around the 1980s when the photo was rediscovered and this future leader was recognized in this exceptional moment in time. The thought of that leaves me bowled over.
Once he was president T.R. told several close friends that “Lincoln was my great hero and that he meant more to me than any other of our public men.” I am not surprised. What a perfect example of one great man following in the footsteps of another.
Although I didn’t see this photo on display is its readily available online which I have borrowed from the archives to share with those who have not yet seen it.
The one thing missing this day was the man himself. Like my nephew told his mother, “he is dead”, so don’t expect to see him.
I really wish I could transport myself back to that time just for a day to see what he and his life at this home was truly like. Unfortunately that is not yet possible.
I am glad I kept my date with Theodore Roosevelt’s Birthplace and especially thrilled I got to share my love of history and the presidency with the next generation.
President TeddyBear Roosevelt is our favorite after all.
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