Family Life at Sagamore Hill

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site


Theodore Roosevelt. He was a man of prodigious talents, enough interests for twenty people, and unbridled energy. His accomplishments fill the history books and yet one thing stands out above the rest. He said it himself later in life in a letter to a grown son. “I have heartily enjoyed many things -- the presidency, my success as a soldier, a writer, a big game hunter and explorer. But all of them put together, are not, for one moment, to be weighed in the balance when compared with the joy I have known with your mother and all of you.” And in the same letter… “Home, wife, children – they are what really count in life.” What really counted in his life was here at Sagamore Hill and in great abundance, especially the joy. The family strikes a rare formal pose -- Theodore, known as TR, and his wife Edith; Theodore Junior, known as Ted: and Kermit, Archie, and Quentin, and the girls Ethel and Alice. And another posed picture – Jack, one of a whole menagerie of dogs and cats, horses and snakes, and raccoons and birds – all considered part of the family. The Roosevelt Family album… some faded images, some strong memories of a fascinating family. But some old pictures can be misleading. They don’t quite tell the whole story. The family did sit still and pose…once in a while. And Sagamore Hill was peaceful and restful… once in a while, but not very often. Always leading the brigade, TR, and always ready with suggestions and advice. Consider his formula for leisure-time activities – “Stand the gaff. Play fair. Be a good man to camp out with.” Sometimes, it was all just too much, but only once in a while. Sagamore Hill was more than just a sort of a family playground – much more. After all, it served as a summer White House from 1902 to 1908 for seven years. So, there was an endless procession of visitors -- Boy Scouts and diplomats, statesmen and politicians, foreign dignitaries – important people with important business on their minds, even the very, very famous. Four giants in American history, posing at Sagamore Hill. Naturalists John Muir and John Burroughs, seated, and behind them Thomas Edison, the inventor and Harvey Firestone, the industrialist. The important business did get done, of course, and mostly in TR’s office, just off the front hallway. But everyday there was a break -- time out for play with the children. And the important visitor had a choice – join in the fun or stand by and watch and wait. One of the favorite afternoon pastimes was the point-to-point walk. One would hike from point A to point B, and if there were any obstacles in the way – and there always were -- one would go over them or under them or through them, but never around them. That didn’t match the Roosevelt idea of fun. There was swimming and rowing and most fun of all, playing in the barn behind the house, a kind of rough-and-tumble hide-and-seek. And always, TR led the game. The noise began early in the morning when TR, the first up, would boom up for the children to come down. Some would come sliding down the banister, and others would come bouncing down the stairs, all ready for another day. One room in the house was off-limits for the uninvited – the Gun Room. This was TR’s private preserve, a place where he could sit and read, enjoy the mementos of his travels. But every place else was fair game for fun and games, even the most formal room in the house – the drawing room, Mrs. Roosevelt’s room. And very much like her – somewhat formal, but with a sense of balance. Mrs. Roosevelt brought this sense of balance to every one at Sagamore Hill, but not always easily. She once commented to a friend, “Not one of my children ever wants to be told or directed about anything whatever.” But she did tell and direct in her firm but gentle way. Roosevelt’s aide summed up her influence. “She really constitutes the atmosphere of the house, a sort of feminine luminiferous ether pervading everything and everybody.” The problem was there was so many of them to influence. Not just immediate family, but scores of neighborhood children and dozens of visiting relatives. Most likely a Sunday afternoon, the Roosevelt cousins all line up, posing for just a moment before marching off to something or other. And always at the center, TR. Others knew him as President or statesman or politician. But here at Sagamore Hill he was simply “Father.” Alice remembered, “He was an incredible man and great fun.” “There are two things I want you to make up your minds to do: First, that you are going to have a good time as long as you live. I have no use for a sour-faced man.” But the idea of “fun” was coupled with something else. “And next, that you are going to do something worthwhile, that you are going to work hard and do the things you set out to do.” And they did. They’re all gone now – the children, Father, Mother. Their accomplishments and exploits, their problems fill the history books. And the memories fill this place. They’re here in the faded pictures, the old diaries, in the home. They’re out there on the broad porch with its rocking chairs looking down to Cooper’s Bluff and the water. They’re out there on the big, sprawling lawn, under the trees, down in the old pet cemetery. And because of the memories, Sagamore Hill is not just another place. It’s a special place of special memories. Home, wife, children. These are what really count in life. They certainly counted in their lives and here, in this special place.


An introduction to the Roosevelt Family and their lives at their home, Sagamore Hill, in Oyster Bay, NY. Run time: 8:32. Closed Captions.


8 minutes, 32 seconds



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