January 2019 marked the centennial of the death of Theodore Roosevelt (October 27, 1858 - January 6, 1919). The New York State Library honored this great New Yorker by exhibiting a few items from the collection written by and about Theodore Roosevelt.
In his 60 years of life, Theodore Roosevelt was many things to many people including birdwatcher; conservationist; poet and author; beloved brother, father and husband; soldier; North Dakota rancher; reformer; Sunday School teacher; New York State legislator; New York State Governor; and, as author David Pietrusza describes him in the 'Players in Our Drama' section of his book 1920:The Year of Six Presidents:
The Rough Rider himself. President. Historian. Cowboy. Police commissioner. Trust-buster. Explorer. Naturalist. Big-game hunter. Nobel Prize-winner. He has been president once – and wants the job again. Only the hand of God can keep him from the White House in 1920.
On January 6, 1919 Theodore Roosevelt died unexpectedly in his sleep at his home, Sagamore Hill, after being hospitalized in November and December of 1918 for inflammatory rheumatism. His illness was likely and unfortunately compounded by the malaria he had contracted on his trip to Brazil in 1913-1914. The Vice-President at that time, Thomas Marshall, is quoted as saying "Death had to take him sleeping. For if Roosevelt had been awake, there would have been a fight.
The large exhibit cases highlighted memorials on the death and life of Theodore Roosevelt, as well as pictures and books about his life and accomplishments. Indeed, many, many, many books have been written about Roosevelt since he himself began chronicling his own life.
Of note, on exhibit were two pages from Stefan Lorant's book The Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt featuring an image of a newspaper announcement of his death, a drawing by his friend and fellow conservationist Ding Darling, and an image of his death mask.
Also of note in the large cases were three books written about Theodore Roosevelt by David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Paul Grondahl. Next to these books were quotes from these authors about what drew them to writing about Theodore Roosevelt.
The smaller exhibit cases highlighted some of TR's time in New York, from birth to 'living memorial'.
Birth and birds
TR was a native New Yorker. He was born in New York City and the home he lived in is now a National Historic Site. He spent time in the Adirondacks as a youth, and his first published work was The Summer Birds of the Adirondacks in Franklin County, NY. Written with his friend H. D. Minot, it is an annotated listing of birds they had observed in Franklin County. A 2001 reprint is on display.
New York Assemblyman Roosevelt
In 1881, at just twenty three years of age, TR began his tenure in the New York State Assembly. In an excerpt from Edmund Morris' book The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt published in the February/March, 1979 issue of the journal American Heritage Morris notes:
To say that Theodore Roosevelt made a vivid first impression upon his colleagues would hardly be an exaggeration. From the moment that he appeared in the caucus room, there was a chorus of incredulous and delighted comment. Memories of his entrance, transcribed many years later, vary as to time and place, but all share the common image of a young man bursting through a door and pausing for an instant while all eyes were upon him ...
Police Commissioner Roosevelt
In 1895 TR was appointed Police Commissioner of New York City where he spent time with journalist Jacob Riis, and others, on midnight walks through New York City. Richard Zacks, author of Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Quest to Clean up Sin-Loving New York notes that Roosevelt knew Jacob Riis' seminal photographic book about the poverty in New York City tenements, How the Other Half Lives and that:
When Roosevelt first read the book, he sought out the author at the Evening Sun offices. Missing him, TR left his card, with these words on the back: "I have read your book and I have come to help."
The dawn of the reform era in the police department began on May 6, 1895, when sixty-eight-year-old mayor William L. Strong, a former bank president, in a brief 10 a.m. ceremony at City Hall, swore Theodore Roosevelt in as police commissioner.
Roosevelt was elected Governor of New York State in 1898 and served in that role from 1899-1900, when he was elected as the Vice-President of the United States. Editor Gilbert J. Black notes in Theodore Roosevelt 1858-1919 that as governor, Roosevelt "signed bills regulating tenement sweatshops, utilities and insurance companies, food and drugs, child labor, minimum pay for teachers, 8-hour day for state employees, factory inspectors" and enacted many other reforms.
Vice-President Roosevelt to President Roosevelt
Roosevelt served only a short time as Vice-President of the United States. He was inaugurated as Vice-President in March, 1901 and President William McKinley was shot in Buffalo, NY on September 6, 1901. President McKinley died of his wounds on September 14. From Theodore Roosevelt, 1858-1919:
September 13, 1901
While hiking, Roosevelt received word that McKinley was dying. After a wild night ride by buckboard he reached his special train in North Creek to learn McKinley had died. In Buffalo on the 14th, Judge John R. Hazel of the United States District Court administered the oath of office in the library of the Ansley Wilcox home.
Also on exhibit are the accounts of two women who bore witness to parts of this wild night ride. Christina Rainsford shares her story in an article published in the Theodore Roosevelt Association Journal (vol VII No 3 Summer, 1981). Rainsford writes:
On a damp night in September, 1901, a man muffled in a heavy overcoat with a slouched hat pulled down over his eyes jumped in a waiting buffy; the horse leaped forward into the darkness – an historic ride had begun. Of all the dramatic happenings of that day the thing I remember the most vividly is the excitement of being allowed to sit up long after my bedtime to stand in the muddy road and wave goodbye. The man who started on that ride was Vice-President of the United States; when his exhausted and mud-spattered hours brought him to his destination, he was President.
Eloise Cronin Murphy shares her story in Theodore Roosevelt's Night Ride to the Presidency published by the Adirondack Museum (now known as the Adirondack Experience, the Museum on Blue Mountain Lake). Murphy was the daughter of Mike Cronin who drove Theodore Roosevelt from Aiden Lair to North Creek where he caught a special train to Buffalo.
Sagamore hill and a living memorial
During his tenure as President of the United States, Roosevelt maintained a "Summer White House" at Oyster Bay, NY called Sagamore Hill. The Roosevelts had made their home at Sagamore Hill since 1885.
It was to Sagamore Hill that Roosevelt returned after his stay at the Roosevelt hospital in late 1918, and here he died and is buried in the nearby Youngs Cemetery. His cousins, Emlen and Christine Roosevelt, who lived adjacent, donated twelve acres to the Audubon Society for a bird sanctuary, fittingly as a "living memorial to a great man."
Bibliography for this exhibit
Search for "Theodore Roosevelt" in the online catalog to discover the many, many more holdings on TR at the New York State Library!
Exhibit curated by Kerry Shermer and Michael Meyer.