A day trip to New York City in September 2014 offered a great opportunity to fill in a gap from a previous Nerd Trip. The first time we visited the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace on East 20th street, the gallery was closed for renovations, so we could only take the tour (see previous post). Appropriately, on our second visit, traffic on a rainy morning delayed our arrival so we missed the tour and could only visit the gallery.
The gallery features exhibits on the Roosevelt family with lots of pictures and artifacts. You’ll find it on the ground floor, the same level where you enter to meet the ranger for the tour (both the gallery and the tour are free). You should also be sure to check out the political cartoons lining the walls in back hall near the bathrooms.
One of the first things you may notice upon entering the gallery is a big moose head, appropriate for the champion of the Progressive Party, better known as the Bull Moose Party
The gallery has “hundreds of original items from Roosevelt’s colorful life.” You’ll see campaign buttons and handwritten notes, including a short diary entry on the day in 1884 when TR lost both his mother and his first wife. He wrote simply, “The light has gone out of my life.”
There are lots of family photos of his grandparents, parents and children, as well as photos of TR throughout his life.
I think one of the most remarkable things we saw was the shirt the former president was wearing when he was shot in 1912 (The Ken Burns/PBS documentary on the Roosevelts had a picture of shirt at the time, and it was pretty bloody). You can see the bullet hole in the shirt (check out the “TR” on the collar) and the bullet holes in the speech that was in his coat pocket.
As you may recall, TR became president following the assassination of William McKinley in 1901. When he was elected in 1904, he said that he would not accept another nomination for president (meaning he would not run in 1908). He later regretted it, and, as we’ve discussed, ran again for president in 1912 as part of the Bull Moose party.
At a campaign stop in Milwaukee on October 14 that year, a delusional man fired a shot at Roosevelt who was standing in an open car. Roosevelt’s coat, 50-page speech (folded over) and glasses case slowed the bullet, but it hit him just below the right lung, lodging close to his heart. Doctors urged Roosevelt to cancel the speech, but he gave it anyway, stuffing a handkerchief in the wound.
According to the display, Roosevelt spoke for an-hour-and-a-half, then spent a week in the hospital and resumed his campaign later that month. The bullet was never removed. Roosevelt’s attacker was apprehended at the scene, later pled guilty and then “finished his days quietly in a hospital for the criminally insane.” Roosevelt and his former friend William Howard Taft both lost the election to Woodrow Wilson who became our 28th president.
One of my other favorite displays was the pictures of TR with Booker T. Washington, renowned educator and founder of the Tuskegee Institute. When he was president at the turn of the century, Roosevelt started a firestorm when he hosted Booker T. Washington at the White House. We learned a lot about Booker T’s amazing life on Nerd Trip to his birthplace – I love it when Nerd Trips collide.
Of course, a gallery devoted to the life of Theodore Roosevelt would have a display on teddy bears.
One note, the lighting/chandeliers in the gallery made photography a challenge (at least for this unskilled photographer). The phone seemed to take better photos. For more information about visiting the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace in New York City, including admissions and souvenir options, visit our On the Map page.
In our next post, I’ll tell you about what a ranger at the Theodore Roosevelt birthplace said that may be one of the best quotes we have ever heard on a Nerd Trip!