“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Theodore Roosevelt
So fellow travelers, after my brief meditation of gratitude in the shade of the cherry trees, I walked to the visitor’s center, claimed my color coded tour pin and followed the path towards the legendary Roosevelt home on the hill. Along the way I passed a windmill with an amusing anecdote from TR’s own journal.
This is just one example of the tangible living history which infuses this park. Not only was Sagamore Hill the primary home for the Roosevelt family until Edith’s death in 1948, the Roosevelts were the only family ever to occupy the house. The house stands filled with most of the original furniture and many of the family possessions, carefully gathered and documented by Ethel, TR and Edith’s younger daughter. So as you walk through the house, every room has little details which make the space feel alive, as if at any moment one of the former residents will walk through one of the doors to sit in a chair, pick up a book or grab a hat off a rack and head out to climb a tree.
Theodore spent as much time as possible with his family, most of it at Sagamore Hill, retreating to their other residence in Manhattan only during the harshest of winter months. Even during TR’s Presidency, he chose to spend as much time as possible there earning it nickname “The Summer Whitehouse.” Consequently the beautiful dining room, parlor and a large space called the “North Room” (which was a later addition) hosted many significant guests of the era, from the Meiji emperor’s representative to African princes. Magnificent artwork including Remington’s “Bronco Buster” Rough Rider bronze sculpture, a commissioned Tiffany cup*, paintings and portraits fill every space. Yet little details like framed family photos, favorite children’s toys or the pretty hand mirror in the guest room where Theodore’s niece Eleanor frequently stayed, create a feeling more like home than a museum.
The garden arbor created to give Edith a quiet retreat
Photos are not permitted inside the house so I have only exterior images to share and not wanting to rely on the vapors of memory, I purchased a book about the house in the visitor’s center. Two rooms held particular significance for me and I wanted to have a have a visual record of my extraordinary experience with what these rooms were like
The first is TR’s library, on the main floor which has a view just outside its window of a huge tree the children loved to climb. Like most rooms of the house its walls are lined with bookcases and this room holds most of TR’s favorite of the over ten thousand books he owned and yes read. Every single one. This room is where the family gathered every evening to read or tell stories, and the children would tell their father something new they had learned or read that day. After Theodore became President, this was the room where he conducted staff meetings and official business when not in Washington. It is the room where he met with Pinchot Gifford to work on the creation of the National Parks system. After our guide mentioned this, I lingered a few minutes in the doorway, looking at the desk and chairs where TR and Gifford would have sat discussing the plans for what I believe is the greatest legacy of his term.
The second significant room for me is a space which served many purposes over the years from billiards den to playroom but eventually became known as “the Gun Room” after TR stored his hunting equipment there. From its third floor height, the room had views over looking the grounds and Oyster Bay in the distance. There sits Theodore’s writing desk with his original chair across from the stenographers table where his hired assistants would type dictated notes and texts. Perched on one corner of his desk is one of two unique rhino foot ink wells (the pair were gifts from Africa; the other sits on his desk in the library next to the only telephone in the house) alongside one of his actual pens and notebooks.
For an instant I felt him sitting in the chair, looking out the window at the grounds he loved so deeply. TR spoke of the discipline of writing as a way to tame his own restless, impatient nature. While it became his primary means of support after most of his original personal inheritance was lost to his years at the Dakota ranches, writing held meaning beyond income for him. Reverence for his dedication to writing settled on me.
“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”
A silent promise exchanged between writers, one whose spirit remains alive through his published works, one still working on her craft and committed to finding ways to give voice to her own restless spirit.
Thanks Teddy for the inspiration.
Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.
Photo note: The typewriter belongs to my youngest daughter; it has the feeling of the one on the stenographers desk in TR writing space. The portrait of TR is the one I chose from many available at the visitor’s center. While somewhat grainy, it is a very vibrant image which captures his engaging smile and constant energy. It now sits next to my own art and writing space at home.
*Editor’s note: The Silver Tiffany Cup, like all the items in the house, has a story worth retelling, but it didnot fit in the narrative above, so I include here as a footnote. The stunning piece was given to Edith Roosevelt by the crew of the battleship, USS Louisianna in gratitude for their safe passage to Panama and back. You see, Maritime superstition believed sailing with a woman on board was bad luck and any such voyage undertaken would be doomed. Edith, with the support of her husband insisted on accompanying the President; it was the first time any US President had traveled to another country while in office, a major break from past practice. I love that Edith in her own way defied another outdated tradition and earned the admiration of the crew while she was on board. You can see the cup and many other items at this link.