I got home at around 8:30 last night after a long day’s work and there waiting in the vestibule was a package from the editor of the Theodore Roosevelt Association Journal. Inside were a dozen copies, hot off the press, of the current edition, containing my article about Ted Roosevelt and his life as a writer and editor. Ted Roosevelt’s literary story begins in 1919 when he arrived home from the Great War aboard the Mauritania and ends just prior to his rejoining the Army to fight again, this time in the Second World War. Really, however, the story is much deeper than that; so many of the clan had a literary bent and he very much fits into that aspect of the family heritage. It was long my goal to get published in the TRA Journal and I cannot express how happy I am with the experience.
As I mentioned the other day I could not make it out to Governors Island this weekend because I have some things I must catch up on. I’m sure they’re having way too much fun out there. I thought I would do the next best thing and mark Memorial Day by recognizing one of the great men to have passed through the island: Charles P. Summerall. I wrote about his frequent visits to the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace two years ago. The top photograph was taken on September 22, 1937 at a reunion of the Society of the First Division. The 16th Infantry Regiment re-enacted the 1918 Battle of Fleville that afternoon, and later that evening there was a banquet at the Hotel Pennsylvania overseen by Colonel Theodore (Ted) Roosevelt. The images of his headstone were taken in Arlington Cemetery last month.
I am out the door in a few minutes to get some things done. Whatever you do today, stop and remember this Memorial Day.
top image/A Seventeen-gun salute was accorded General Charles P. Summerall, retired (center, hat on chest), when he returned to Governor Island to see the re-enactment of the Battle of Fleville today. General Summerall was a war-time commander of the First Division. (Photo by Anthony Calvacca / (c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images)
I was in the city this morning meeting a friend for brunch. Afterwards, we were headed somewhere else when I realized we were just a block from the Roosevelt Birthplace on East 20th Street. I had not been past since it closed last April and naturally had to swing by and check things out. Work seems to be progressing on the outside of the house. When I know more about the re-opening, I will keep everyone up-to-date.
I came across the image above the other day via the Kansas City Star. The photograph was taken in that city at the American Legion Convention in November 1921. They are hard to make out but the VIPs on the podium are none other than General Jacques of Belgium, General Armando Diaz of Italy, Vice President Calvin Coolidge, Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France, General Pershing, and British Admiral David Beatty. The photo cuts off whatever is on the far left, which is unfortunate because everyone including the big shots are looking in that direction. Of everyone present I find Foch’s presence the most interesting; later that same month he visited the still-under-reconstruction Roosevelt House on East 20th Street here in New York City. As I always point out to people at the TRB, he was on a grand tour modeled after Lafayette’s 1824-25 visit.
I searched a few online sources to see if Ted Roosevelt was present in KC for the convention. He appears not to have been, which makes sense as he was Harding’s Assistant Navy Secretary by this time. He had been in Missouri, in St. Louis, for the Legion’s founding convention two years previously. I assume these conventions were held where they were because these cities were located in the center of the country and thus easy to get to via railroad. KC is an important American city when it comes to the First World War. Theodore Roosevelt wrote for the Star for much of 1917 until his death in early 1919. So did Hemingway until he left for Italy in early 1918. Pershing was from there, which is why the Liberty Memorial and now the National World War I Museum and Memorial are in Kansas City. I have been to the Liberty Memorial once before and would love to get back during the centennial.
(image/Kansas City Star)
The Theodore Roosevelt Association’s annual conference is this weekend in Boston. Alas I will not be attending this year. I was talking to a friend the other day, an individual who is quite knowledgeable about Roosevelt, and mentioned to her that Boston is an ideal place to discuss TR and his legacy. Harvard, Alice Hathaway Lee, and Henry Cabot Lodge are all big parts of Theodore Roosevelt’s story with their roots in The Hub. Working on the article I submitted last week, I came across an individual I had never heard of previously: Nora E. Cordingley.
Ms. Cordingley was a Canadian-American who ended up working at the New York Public Library in the early 1900s. In 1923 she took a job at Roosevelt House working under director Hermann Hagedorn. She was there for two full decades; when the Roosevelt Collection moved from East 20th Street to Harvard University in 1943 she moved to Cambridge along with the collection. I was at NYPL a few weeks ago and asked the reference librarian if she had ever heard of Cordingley. She had not. The ref librarian added that NYPL had a training course in the early 1900s–this presumably in the years prior to one’s receiving an MLS from an ALA-accredited school–and that Cordingley may have been here in New York to receive this education. Then, if this is indeed the narrative, after her education and training she moved on to the Roosevelt collection that the RMA was building on East 20th Street.
Cordingley was dedicated to her job. Sadly she died in the Widener Library of a heart attack in March 1951 while editing Roosevelt’s letters. These were the letters that were published in eight volumes in the 1950s under the direction of Elting Morison. Cordingley’s is a moving story that I now think about each time I look up a Roosevelt missive in the set.
Here is something you don’t see every day. I was at the New York Public Library today doing some research. The book I am holding here is volume 1 of the Memorial Edition of Theodore Roosevelt’s collected works. For those who may not know their TR, Colonel Roosevelt authored over thirty books in his lifetime. I wrote a Facebook post for the TRB page about a year ago. Hermann Hagedorn edited Roosevelt’s books in the mid-1920s. The collected works were then published in two versions, a limited-run Memorial Edition and a larger National Edition for the general public.
There were 1050 sets of the Memorial Edition. This is 629. What really drew my attention is that it is signed by Edith Roosevelt, Theodore’s wife. This thing has been part of the NYPL collection for 90+ years now. It’s amazing to hold such a thing in your hands.
Yesterday’s New York Times had a write-up about Sunday’s reopening of Sagamore Hill. I will probably visit sometime in early fall. Like the restoration of the Lee Mansion in Arlington that took place a few years ago, much of the Sagamore restoration work was gritty and unglamorous. It was about the infrastructure–electricity, duct work, cleaning the taxidermy–and things of that nature. Sexy or not that is what needs to be done to keep such treasures functioning for future generations. The latest rehabilitation is now itself a part of the story of the 130-year-old home.
The excitement around Sagamore has been building for months. We certainly talked about it with visitors at the Roosevelt Birthplace on a daily basis.
Find your Park.
(image/Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, The New York Public Library. “Sagamore Hill, home of President Theodore Roosevelt at Oyster Bay, L. I.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e4-83e5-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99)
On my tours at the Roosevelt Birthplace I always told the story of Marshal Ferdinand Foch’s 1921 visit to the site, which was then still under reconstruction. The Great War had been over for three years and Foch was on East 20th Street paying his respects to Theodore and Quentin Roosevelt. Many of you will know that young Airman Quentin died in France on Bastille Day 1918. The wider story is that Foch was in the United States on a goodwill tour modeled in part on Marquis de Lafayette’s goodwill tour of 1824-25. Lafayette arrived in New York and landed at Castle Garden to great fanfare before venturing out across the still-young nation whose independence he had helped win.
This all came back to me yesterday when, after the day at Governors Island, I ventured up to the South Street Seaport to see the Hermione. For those not aware, this is a reconstruction of the frigate that took Lafayette here. The ship sailed into New York earlier this week to mark the 4th of July. Interest was high and there were many people out enjoying the scene.
One of the most symbolic acts of the Great War took place on a Fourth of July. In 1917 members of the 16th Infantry Regiment led a contingent that included General Pershing on a five mile march ending at Lafayette’s tomb at Picpus Cemetery. The arrival of the Americans in summer 1917, though largely symbolic at this point in the war, could not have come a better time for the flagging morale of the French people. It was at Lafayette’s grave that Colonel Charles E. Stanton said the famous line: “Nous sommes ici, Lafayette.”
One thing I always conveyed during my tours at the Roosevelt Birthplace was how far back the family goes here in the city. The Roosevelts trace their New York City roots back well over three centuries. Here is an example of that. I took these two images, one looking north and one south, of Bowling Green the other day. Most early New York City life took place in this vicinity. The Roosevelt & Son hardware concern, founded in the 1790s, was near here. Johannes Roosevelt, the patriarch to whom the Oyster Bay Roosevelts trace their lineage (as opposed to his brother Jacobus, who began the Hudson Valley Roosevelt line), was in business around these parts even earlier. Johannes was born around 1689 and worked as a merchant providing goods and services for the shipping industry.
Bowling Green is called bowling green for a logical reason: people bowled here. Decades prior to the American Revolution Johannes and two associates received a public concession to operate and maintain this space. The nominal fee was one peppercorn a year.
Yesterday was my final day at the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site. It closes for renovation later this week. I was there a full eighteen months and can say that I have a deeper and more appreciative knowledge of American and international history than I did a year and a half ago. Much of this was due to the openness and generosity of the TRB rangers, especially Michael Amato and Daniel Prebutt.
Mike and Danny were always so welcoming to me. They allowed me be involved in many aspects of the site’s operations, not just giving tours but writing articles for the Facebook and website pages and helping in my own small way on other projects. An example was writing signage for the update of the Lower Museum Gallery. One of my favorite memories was commiserating behind the information desk after a tour and discussing the ins-and outs of the interpreter’s craft. Tailoring a talk to meet the expectations and interest level of the audience is so crucial. It was always exhilarating to see the swinging doors open and say hello to whoever was walking in. And they came across the country and around the world. Theodore Roosevelt is just that strong.
Just because I am no longer at the TRB doesn’t mean I am not continuing with the Roosevelts. The extended family is too much of a historian’s dream to do that. The Roosevelt Sr. book is moving along; I am also working on some things about Ted. The latter fits in well with the Great War Centennial. There is a lot of Roosevelt history at Governors Island that I will be focusing on this summer. These are just a few things.
I will miss the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace. Still, I leave with the good feeling of having learned and accomplished a great deal. I also have the memories of working with such talented and dedicated professionals as Mike and Dan. And for this I will always be grateful.