…And his Birthplace Museum, which has been a functioning museum since the 1970s. If you don’t know what the building looks like, here’s a picture of it.
Except, well, it isn’t. Not really anyway. It’s a recreation you see. A “70s recreation of a 20s house based on 60 year old memories” is how I believe the tour guide phrased it. I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of numbers for me to take in.
After I managed to get my head around all those numbers, I started to think. “Hang on,” went my train of thought, “so none of this is actually legit history? Has all of this been fudged?” I have to say; the museologist in me was beginning to get uncomfortable.
Not only had the original house gone through several incarnations, but it had joined with the house next door (now given over to office space). The architectural history is interesting enough, but had it destroyed the actual historical heritage?
Let me get to that.
Theodore Roosevelt did say that he didn’t want a shrine, but luckily for us, the USA and the remaining Roosevelts disagreed. So, with the help of the very-well connected family – who it seems never really parted with anything – the National Parks service were able to accurately recreate the rooms of the house in which Teddy Roosevelt was born.
Right down to the bed he was birthed in. Yup, that’s it in the picture – although I can’t say if the sheets are the same. They’ve probably been washed since.
Lots of Rooseveltiana found its way back to the ancestral home, which helped to make the recreation feel a bit more genuine.
It makes me happy that Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt used an over-sized tea cup. Of course he would! The floral pattern on the crockery is a nod to the floral meaning of the family name: Roosevelt means Field of Roses. Although the family crest on the pink tea cup doesn’t have any family words on it, I’d imagine that they would be something like “Growing Strong“.
“Growing Strong” would not be completely inappropriate words for the family, and Teddy in particular. He was a sickly child, but built a strong body for his strong mind following the advice of his father (also Theodore). This image of strength can pretty much be summed up in this iconic costume.
Due to a vastly popular movie franchise, the person I see wearing this is always Robin Williams.
Clothes, it seems, are a vital part of telling this adventurous American’s story. Have a look at the shirt below.
There is a small hole in the shirt and 4 holes in the paper. These are remnants from an attempt on Teddy’s life during a 1912 campaign – the actual incident occurred on October 14th fact fans. As you can see, Teddy was shot in the chest, but rather than receive medical treatment right away, tough-as-nails Teddy continued to deliver his 90 minute monologue!
His notes (the paper above) were folded in half and were sitting in his chest pocket.
They saved his life.
However impressive the image of immense strength is, it was the story of an intensely tragic moment in the man’s history that stays with me after my visit.
Roosevelt lost his mother and wife on the same day, and this is how he expressed it in his diary.
“X The light has gone out of my life”
The stories the house tells are not just stories of Theodore (“Teedy” to his family, as there were many, many Theodores) and the other Roosevelts. We catch glimpses of other really significant moments, and even a big museological moment as it was in this room that the charter for the original American Museum of Natural History was signed.
Please excuse the accidental #MuseumSelfie moment.
This is a really charming museum; the stories it tells are powerful, and they do a very good job of telling them. Teddy Roosevelt is now a bit of a hero to me (and not just because of the Robin William connection). It might not be the sprawling museum that the Met is or have the grandness of The Frick but this little Historic House Museum had shed loads of heart and, you know what, it’s the heart that really makes a museum worth visiting.
The best news of all to this increasingly cash-strapped tourist? THE MUSEUM IS FREE.