Fort Jay, Summer 2013

Fort Jay, Summer 2013

If you wanted to visit Governors Island this summer but never did, this weekend is your last chance. Sunday is the last day of the season. It could not be a better weekend to be outside either.

People have been asking me what I will be doing once the season ends. Well, starting in late October, after a few weeks R&R, I will start volunteering at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site in Manhattan. This is something I am excited about. Last year I sat idle during the off-season, and seven months without the privilege of providing Interpretation to the public was too long. This will give me the opportunity to engage in public history year round.

It happened by chance. This past February I ventured to the Roosevelt birthplace (TRB) in preparation for my June talk at the New York History conference in Cooperstown. I was talking about the role Theodore Sr (Teddy’s father), William E. Dodge Jr, and their associates played in the Union war effort in the Civil War. When I walked in, I glanced to the information desk on the left–and saw a friend from Ellis Island behind the counter. He and the rest of the Interpretive staff from Ellis Island had been farmed out to the various Manhattan sites after Hurricane Sandy. As you might imagine, I was quite surprised and pleased to see him. Ranger Sam is a special guy and a National Park Service treasure. To make a story short, he encouraged me to come to TRB after the summer ended at Governors Island. And so, that is what is happening.

It is a more seamless fit than it may seem. Both sites offer plenty of opportunities for creative Interp. My primary focus has always been the Civil War Era, with emphasis on era. I have always maintained that one cannot understand the Civil War without understanding what came before and after. At the TRB I will focus on many things, including the Roosevelts’ lives before the war, how they managed during the crisis, and what they did afterward during the Gilded Age. Theodore Sr was a great friend on John Hay. In fact, he was such good friends with Lincoln’s personal secretary that he had his correspondence delivered to the White House in Hay’s care. Hay, of course, would go on to become Secretary of State in the McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt (Jr) Administrations.

Wheeler, Wood, and Roosevelt (left to right, foreground) in camp, Tampa, Florida, 1898

Wheeler, Wood, and Roosevelt (left to right, foreground) in camp; Tampa, Florida, 1898

When Teddy Roosevelt fought in Cuba two of his superior officers were Leonard Wood and Joseph Wheeler. Yes, the Joseph Wheeler who had fought for the Confederacy decades earlier. Wood and Wheeler both served at Governors Island during various points in their careers. Now, in 1898, he was giving the politically astute but militarily inexperienced Roosevelt guidance as went up San Juan Hill. When the war ended, the Treaty of paris ending the conflict was negated by . . . John Hay. In October 1900 Wheeler himself was back on Governors Island, helping William E. Dodge Jr dedicate the YMCA on the island. These are the types of connections I am hoping to make at the Teddy Roosevelt Birthplace. I think it is going to be a great fall.

(bottom image/National Archives)