Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Visit to Sagamore Hill

For my birthday this year, my mother and I spent a day on Long Island, NY to visit Sagamore Hill, the home of Teddy and Edith Roosevelt. We were also able to see several other spots of interest.

We got up early in the morning since we read that if you do not get there early enough, the tickets for the house tours for the day will be sold out. Thankfully, we didn't have any traffic, so we were able to get there quickly. It's about a two hour drive from my home near Allentown, PA.

We had to drive through the city to get there on the express way. 

Long Island felt so much like Pennsylvania! It was hilly with beautiful trees sporting bright yellow and red leaves. 

Sagamore Hill

We got to Sagamore Hill before it opened. We drove through the long drive up to the house. The drive was at the bottom of the hill and you looked up to see the home. You couldn't see any other homes from the drive. We were there in time to see a Boy Scout Troop raise the flag. Hearing their busy voices chatting added to the excitement.

This picture does not do the magnificence of the place justice. It has a stately air and you could tell those who lived here loved nature. The property had many trees and when it was built you could see Oyster Bay from the front porch. Now there are too many trees that have overgrown the view.

We were able to buy our tickets for the first tour. While we were waiting for the tour to begin, we looked around at the chicken coop and read a couple of signs that explained the Roosevelts and different aspects of their lives. One interesting piece pointed out that at times TR would join his farm hands in the fields when he just had the urge to be outside working for the day. He insisted to be paid for his labor, too!

We also noticed that there was a windmill which operated the water pump along with an ice house. There is a story that TR had climbed up the windmill to repair a part and the windmill sliced a part of his scalp. He was bleeding pretty badly. When he went into the house Edith said something like, "If you are going to bleed, please don't do it on my floors! Go into the bathroom!"

When we went up to the front porch, we noticed that there was a large wrap around porch. There was a section of the porch that did not have any rail at all. That is where the rocking chairs were and they faced the bay. What a peaceful view that must have been! 

The front room with the awning was TR's office. He purposefully put his office in the front of the house by the front door so that he could beat the maids to the door when visitors came. 

The front door was wide and heavy. It had the presidential seal on it. Inside this door was the hall with TR's office to the right, Edith's sitting room to the left, and at the end of the hall was the dining room (which I thought was quite small), and a large room they used for receptions and dancing and general entertaining.

Another door on the porch had a Latin phrase above it. We looked it up when we got home. It means "he who has planted will preserve." This is the TR family motto.

Unfortunately, there were no pictures allowed to be taken inside. It was very Victorian: dark wood panels, lots of pattern, and lots of texture. There were also lots of animal skins and heads and even a trash can made out of an elephant foot!

There was not much said about Edith on the tour. But it was so special to be feet away from where she rested in her sitting room and where she wrote letters at her desk. In the dining room, she sat at the foot of the table and behind her was a folding screen through which she gave instructions to the kitchen help. We even got to see the bed where she died.

The house transported you to the time period more so than other house tours I've been on. I think this is due to the fact that when Edith died in 1948 the house was given to the Teddy Roosevelt Association and then later it was turned over to the National Park Service. So there was no need for curators to hunt down original furniture or belongings. It was already there just how it was when they actually lived there. Amazing!

Old Orchard

After we toured Sagamore Hill, we walked down a small foot path to Old Orchard, the house built for Ted, Jr.

Orchard House
Old Orchard was turned into a museum for TR. We took a quick look through.

These clever steps were set up on the picket fence between Old Orchard and Sagamore Hill. So, of course, we tried them out!

TR Grave Site

Our next stop was the TR grave site at Young's Memorial Cemetery. It was only a couple miles from Sagamore Hill. The Young family were friends of the Roosevelts and were one of the early settlers in the area. 

 The cemetery was on a wooded hill near a home. There was a paved path that went up the hill with the tombstones all on one side of the path. 

After a short walk up the path, there was a note to go up the 26 steps to see TR's grave. There were 26 steps since he was the 26th president.

At the top of the 26 steps there was a concrete slab with a stone bench and then a gated area that housed the grave site of both TR and Edith. There was one headstone and one foot stone for the two of them. 

This stone with a plaque was next to the stone bench by TR's grave. It quotes TR saying "keep your eyes on the stars and keep your feet on the ground."
Next we explored the rest of the cemetery to see who else was buried there. We looked for TR's children. Their tombstones were not right next to TR's, but they were several rows away and they were not all right next to each other. We found stones for all the kids except Quentin which we were surprised about. Quentin had died during WWI and died before TR did. Quentin was actually buried overseas. But we thought he would at least have a marker in this cemetery especially when we saw a marker for Ted Jr., who is buried in France. He died there shortly after D-Day in which he had fought. Although, now that I'm thinking about it, maybe it's because Ted, Jr.'s wife had him mentioned on her stone since she is buried there, too, and Quentin was not married when he died so no wife would have marked his death on a stone.

The other interesting part of the Young Cemetery was that the Young family erected wooden crosses to mark the graves of their slaves. We had never seen anything like that before.

Many of the Young family were buried there obviously. I loved the font used for the stones. It's different than in PA. Stones in our area of PA from this time period are in German.

Oh, but the best part of the cemetery was my mother brought Pop-Tarts!! When we were kids we spent a lot of time in cemeteries while my mother was doing genealogical or historical research. To sweeten the deal for us kids, we were given Pop-Tarts at the cemetery. It was the ONLY time we got Pop-Tarts. We also loved when the cemetery was connected to a church with a playground or had huge pine trees which we could play under with our Cabbage Patch dolls. I also liked to peek into the windows of the old Mennonite meetinghouses. Some even had outhouses still. 

Raynham Hall

After the cemetery we went into the small town of Oyster Bay and visited Raynham Hall which was the home of Benjamin Tallmadge who was the lead spy for George Washington on the Culper Spy Ring. The Revolutionary War history in this home was fascinating. Benjamin Tallmadge was so secretive that when Washington came to town, Tallmadge didn't go to see Washington or let on that he was Culper. That takes humility!

The docent was so knowledgeable and had done a fabulous job sewing her own costume. She was knowledgeable not only about the Revolutionary War era but the house itself. There had been many additions over time. The house is much bigger than it looks!  

After Raynham Hall, it was time to head home. We couldn't have asked for a better day. Thanks, Mom!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

How To Raise Boys: 6 Tips From Edith Roosevelt

How does a mom of boys parent her sons? This is not a new question. Edith Roosevelt, TR’s wife and the First Lady who brought us to the 20th century, had four curious, adventurous boys.

How did Edith manage her boys? Here are 6 tips from Edith’s life:

 Let Dad play rough.

 Edith knew to let Dad play with the boys. Gifford Pinchot, the Chief Forester of the USA, came to visit when Teddy was Governor of New York State. When he arrived the mansion was “under ferocious attack from a band of invisible Indians, and the Governor was helping a houseful of children to escape by lowering them out of a second-story window on a rope.” After everyone was safe, Gifford and TR had a friendly boxing match, then they got down to discussing their business.

Theodore Roosevelt and his sons Ted Jr, Archie, Quentin, Kermit

 Give them space.

Edith was privileged to live in large places that provided outdoor space for her boys to play. But she also recognized that her husband needed space, too, which was hard to find at their home, Sagamore Hill, and at the White House when both were constantly swarming with things and people demanding his attention. So Edith purchased a wooded lot in Virginia far off the beaten path complete with a rustic cabin called Pine Knot. Unfinished inside and no road access, this cabin was little more than a roof over your head with a fireplace. And when the pressures of life were too much, the Roosevelts could retreat to the cabin with just their family. Of course, Edith secretly had Secret Service men hiding in the woods for protection, but Teddy didn’t know. He would have just said he didn’t need it. Edith knew not to tell him so he could keep sense of adventure.

Pine Knot, Roosevelt's rustic get away

 Major on the majors.

 Edith had lots of opportunities to choose her battles when it came to her son, Quentin, who was an elementary schooler while in the White House. Apparently in school, Quentin was doing things like dancing when coming into the classroom and drawing instead of doing math problems. The teacher had enough and asked the parents to come in for a conference. Teddy and Edith wrote to the teacher: “If you find him defying your authority or committing any serious misdeeds let me know and I will whip him…” but “I should not be called in merely for such offenses.” Edith had another chance to pick her battles when Kermit was five. During church, he pulled out a baby tooth. He was so excited, he held it up so everyone could see. Edith just pretended to be deep in prayer.

Edith and Quentin

 Let them have adventure

Quentin led a group of young boys in Washington who were called “The White House Gang.” They would climb on the White House roof and roll a snowball down onto a guard. They fired spitballs at Andrew Jackson’s portrait. They climbed magnolia trees on the White House grounds. They attacked TR with pillows during a sleepover. When Edith was hosting an Italian statesman for tea, Quentin and his gang hid in the skylight to spy on them. They began to mimic Italian while pretending to have a monocle. Edith heard them, looked up, and called “Quentin!” The Italian looked up in surprise and dropped his eyeglass into his tea. When her boys were older, she encouraged and allowed adventure on a grander scale. Teddy of course, had always been adventurer at his ranch out west. The boys were able to go along with dad various times for weeks at a time. After the White House years, Teddy and Kermit went on a National Geographic sponsored safari to Africa. As they pulled away for their year-long adventure, Kermit noted that Mom looked perfectly calm and self-possessed although he was sure that her heart was almost broken. Teddy and Kermit also went on a Brazilian expedition into parts that had not yet been explored along the Paraguay River. Kermit, who was working for the Brazilian railroad at the time was given 6 months off to join Dad on this adventure. Later they also went on a hunting expedition in Central Asia.
Roosevelt boys falling in line with the White House guards

Keep the lines of communication open

When her boys were away at school and later when they were around the world working and fighting in the military, she visits them and writes to them. Other first ladies have written to their children. But many look like lectures on paper. Edith writes with love and respect and gives advice gently as suggestion not as a demand. She speaks well of her husband to her children and he speaks well of her.  

"You cannot bring up boys to be eagles and expect them to turn out as sparrows"

Grandchildren later noted that Edith often said this phrase, possibly to soothe her soul when the boys were in their military service. All four of her boys fought in World War I.  Perhaps this phrase also comforted her when she found out about the death of Quentin. He had been shot down behind enemy lines. Unfortunately, Edith went on to see two more of her boys die. Kermit struggled to be useful in the military throughout his adult life. He tried to self-medicate through alcohol. He finally ended the struggle by committing suicide in June of 1943.To protect her heart, Edith was told Kermit died of heart failure. Ted, Jr. was the oldest man at 56 to be in the first invasion wave on D Day. He died of heart failure in July 1944 as he was working from a mobile station planning the next attack on the Germans. He was buried with full military honors with General Patton as one of the pallbearers. Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Roosevelt fought well in World War I and II. He also actively tried to rid the U.S of socialism throughout the fifties and sixties. He died in 1979 at 85 years old.

Edith Roosevelt also raised her step-daughter Alice and her own daughter Ethel. She extended the same opportunities for adventure and independence to her girls, too. Balancing love and limits works for raising both boys and girls.

Edith lived almost thirty years after TR died in 1919. She died in 1948. Her widowhood years showed her own sense of adventure as she traveled the world both to visit her family and for vacations. She also procured Mortlake Manor for herself while keeping a tight rein on her investments and household expenses. She came through the Depression relatively unscathed although towards the end she had to tighten her purse strings and was not able to travel every single time the thought presented itself. She was wise in her household both towards the people in her care and towards the wealth with which she was entrusted.

Information from this blog is from Sylvia Jukes Morris’ biography Edith Kermit Roosevelt, Portrait of A First Lady. (Note: the following link is an affiliate link. Read the disclosure policy here.)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Ida McKinley: Part 1

I would have loved to go on a hike with young Ida McKinley. She could go for miles through rugged terrain.

After she returned from a school in Media, PA, she went back to Ohio to work in her father's bank. This was 1868! She was a teller and worked her way up to essentially being the branch manager. Her father technically was the manager, but he had full confidence in Ida and let her do the work!

young Ida Saxton
After she married the Major, as she called her husband, William McKinley, she had two beautiful daughters. Then tragedy struck this brave and ambitious young lady. Within a short time, her grand-mom, mom, baby, and preschooler all died. Then she fell and injured herself which resulted in periodic leg or spine trouble and epileptic seizures.

Through all this tragedy she became so dependent on the Major and in turn he became dependent on her and the work of caring for her himself.

Her personal tragedies continued. In 1901, McKinley was shot when he was President of the US and he was visiting at a fair. He died months later and Ida was devastated. For the first several years she stayed at home and pouted and begged people to come visit her.

Something seemed to shake her up after she was in an accident with a horseless carriage. After that time she began to come out of her home again and visit with family and friends, especially her great nieces.

Ida passed away May 26, 1907 eleven days before her sixtieth birthday. She had been sick with a cough which led to bronchitis which lead to influenza which led to a stroke.

Her life had been tragic and in moments when she felt well, she was participatory in the Major's political career. What could have been her impact if she had always been in good health emotionally and physically?

There was so much more to Ida's life explored in the excellent book by Carl Anthony. As all of his books are, this book was so well-researched and thorough both about Ida herself and also placing her in the context of her community and country. And it read like a cliff-hanger, the way he phrases each part of the story of her life.

I am looking forward this fall to visit the McKinley home in Canton, Ohio which houses the National First Ladies Library! I will post more about Ida when I return from the trip!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

For the Love of Home and Country: Caroline Harrison

I couldn't help thinking while reading Caroline Lavinia Scott Harrison by  Anne Chieko Moore that Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper would have just loved her. I can picture them hanging out together busily motioning to this wall and that wall while their remodeling ideas tumbled out of their mouths quicker than they could scratch it onto the parchment plans.

Caroline Harrison, First Lady

 By the time Caroline reached the White House in 1889 she had already run a successful home with servants in the center of Indianapolis social life. She also had spent 1881-1887 as a Senator’s wife hosting others in Washington D.C.

The White House was badly in need of expansion. The Harrisons’ brought her father, their two grown children and their spouses, their grandkids, Caroline’s sister and niece with them to the White House. This large family shared five bedrooms and one bathroom which was part of a hallway containing offices! Caroline worked on an expansion plan to present to the Congress. The plans passed the Senate, but not the House since the speaker was not a big fan of Harrison. Instead they gave an appropriation of $52,000 to remodel and redecorate. So Caroline remodeled Chip and Joanna Gaines style!

She arranged for contractors to come and fix up the rotting wooden floors and put in a new kitchen. She also had a master bath put in. The rat population was so bad that she had to call in a man with ferrets to get rid of them all. In addition, Ben and Caroline Harrison were the ones who put the first electricity in the White House which cost $13,450 and was installed by the Edison Company.

Caroline also was the first First Lady to take charge of decluttering and inventory. Before it was the steward’s role to decide what stayed or went. She started with the eight room attic and found some amazing treasures like a thirteen and a half foot mirror-lake which was a gift from Paris to James Monroe. She also found a desk that was given to President Hayes which she had restored for Ben Harrison to use. Later, JFK used the desk.  She also began an inventory of what was actually in the White House so the house was kept in proper order.

When she reached the basement she found lots of presidential china from years past. She began to take inventory and came up with the idea to display the china.  This china collection remains on display today.

In the midst of all this cleaning out and remodeling, Caroline also kept up with the day to day household chores of the White House. Her daily schedule:

6:00 AM Marketing with Baby McKee, her grandson, in tow

8:00 AM Breakfast with the family followed by Bible Reading and prayer lead by Ben Harrison

10:00-2:00 Caroline and the other ladies of the house would give tours to visitors and also entertain those who called

1:30 PM Lunch

6:30 PM Dinner which often included unexpected guests

A reporter commented on the fact that Caroline did her own marketing. Her reply: “Why certainly; always. How else could I expect to have things done to please me?”

She also applied her love of home to her home nation beginning several patriotic traditions such as The Pledge of Alliance, flying the flag on all government and public buildings, and standing during the National Anthem. In addition, Caroline was the first President General of the Daughters of American Revolution and presided over meetings held in the White House.

She was criticized in the press for being too domestic and having nothing better to do. But in reality she thrived and excelled domestically at the same time as paving the way for other women to succeed in other roles. For example, she was part of a group of women asked to fund raise for John Hopkins University’s new medical school. But the women said they would not fund-raise unless the school promised to admit women on equal footing as men to the new medical school.

She also read the newspapers and talked with Ben on political matters. She was well informed and involved.

Caroline’s confidence and competency in her homemaking role from her home in Indianapolis to the White House is inspiring to women today who desire to be available to those around her and make her home and country her first love.

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