3/14/12

Roosevelt Remembered

This past weekend I crossed something off my ever-growing NYC bucket list. After visiting the FDR compound up in Hyde Park, NY two years ago and learning that Theodore Roosevelt is the only US President born in NYC, I have been wanting to take a tour of his childhood brownstone to get a glimpse into what life in the 1800's was like ever since. 

I was thrilled to find out that tours of the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site (28 E. 20th Street) are free and given on the hour from 10-4 Tuesday-Saturday (with no tours at noon). I managed to sneak into the last tour of the day with Ranger Sam. Personally, I think it's pretty badass to be a ranger, but to be a ranger in NYC is a pretty unusual feat. Sam led our tour group, mostly comprised of tourists young and old as well as some families, through the house. I was a bit disappointed to learn that this wasn't the original house because after Mr. Roosevelt decided he didn't want to re-buy the house in 1916 when he was President, it was torn down. After he died in 1919, his sisters Anna and Corinne and niece Eleanor decided to rebuild and refurnish to create the historical site it is today. So while the frame is not original, the layout, most of the furniture and decor is.

Teddy Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site
Something that definitely struck me throughout the house was the lighting, or lack thereof. Sam told us that even though the house is currently outfitted with electricity, they tried to recreate the amount of lighting the family had in the late 1800s with gas lamps. Needless to say, it was dark, and the dark wallpapers only added to the gloominess of some rooms. However, some of the furnishings were amazing. The original marital bed and furniture set were carved from the most gorgeous wood and the glass-work throughout the house was magnificent. Teddy's grandfather was a glass trader so the family benefited immensely from that, in addition to the fact that the grandfather was fairly wealthy and bought the house for his son (Teddy Sr.) as a wedding gift. Not too shabby right?

First Floor Entranceway 
Fireplace in the Living Room
Teddy's Chair as a Boy
Glass Door in Between Living and Dining Rooms (and Ranger Sam)
Dishes were a Gift from Eleanor Roosevelt Upon Completion of the House
Dining Room
Parlor
Decor in the Parlor
Chandelier in the Parlor
The four Roosevelt children were raised by their aunt Anna. Suffering from asthma as a child, Teddy's father built him a mini gym in the back of the house that he would have to climb through a window to access. He was encouraged to work out to build his lungs big and strong and to overcome his asthma. The museum has an old medicine ball on display of the likes he used to use. Obviously, we all know this exercise worked out in his favor as we can all recall images of the Rough Rider, cowboy President. Another interesting fact we learned was that as a child, Teddy was really interested in taxidermy. He would collect dead animals he found throughout the city and came to found the "Roosevelt Museum of Natural History" in his room at the tender age of 8. After he father helped found the American Museum of Natural History in 1869, Roosevelt donated his taxidermied works, a tradition that would continue throughout his adulthood in the Dakotas. In fact, a good portion of the animals on display in the museum today (bears, deer, lions!) were killed and donated by TR.

Doll in the Nursery
View to the makeshift gym in the back of the house

The actual crib that TR slept in as a baby
Marital Bed
Roosevelt had a long career in government, elected as the youngest NY State Assemblyman three years after he graduated from Harvard University. He also went on to serve on the US Civil Service Commission and as the NY City Police Commissioner. He was known as a strict leader, vastly reforming what was known as one of the most corrupt police forces in the country. Sam told us he would go around the city late at night and early in the morning, policeman to policeman, and check up to see if everyone was doing what they were supposed to be doing when they were supposed to be doing it. He also established the first bicycle police squad and standardized the use of pistols by officers.

Newspaper Cartoon About TR as Police Commissioner
From there he went on to be governor of New York State, then Vice President of the US under William McKinley, and then President of the US after McKinley was assassinated. He is most know for establishing the Pure Food and Drug Act (which eventually led to the FDA), his conservation efforts, and for establishing the Progressive "Bull Moose" Party. I could continue to give you facts, but Ranger Sam recommended reading his biography by Elting E. Morrison, who used the research lab in the historic site to write the book.

If you find yourself with a spare hour in Union Square, I would highly recommend a visit to the TR Birthplace National Historic Site. It's transporting, informative, and just plain interesting. You can follow the historic site on Twitter. So what do you think about our 26th President? Do you think had a pretty plush life growing up in the 1800s? Have you been to the historic site? Are you planning to go?

4 comments:

  1. This is so cool! I've never even heard about this, but now I really want to go!

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  2. Good! Glad I could introduce you to something new!

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  3. I will add my kudos for Ranger Sam, whose tour I took a few weeks ago. The tour was fascinating, well-researched, conversational and informative. Oh yeah, I should mention that Ranger Sam is my son and he does a mom proud. Go Sam!

    love,
    Mom

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for commenting Ranger Sam's mom! You should be proud :)

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