The Great American History Tour: Sagamore Hill

by Derrick G. Jeter

Saturday, 28 June 2008


Children were a joy to Theodore Roosevelt. The father of six, stories abound of his many letters to and romps with his children. I like one in particular. When he was President, Roosevelt was engaged in an important meeting that went longer than expected. A couple of his boys had interrupted the meeting reminding the President that he promised to take them on an adventure. After the second or third interruption—to the visible annoyance of the “important” men in the room—President Roosevelt stood, told the stuffy gentlemen that he really must leave; he had promised his boys an escapade and waiting was a painful thing for boys. With that, Roosevelt walked out of the room.


Driving up the tree-lined road of Sagamore Hill, with the beautiful Victorian mansion perched on the top of the hill, I knew right away this was a house teeming with adventurous potential. The first floor of the house is dark—mahogany stained wood covers the walls and floors. It is filled with rustic and eclectic artifacts—bronze statues of cowboys, Indians, and wild animals, flags hang from the ceiling beams and in frames, a sword and hat is balanced in the horns of a moose, and huge elephant trunks greet you in the great room. The floors are covered with animal skins and the walls with deer, elk, and buffalo heads. Three stories, accessed by two stairways, with hallways that twist and turn just invite a game of hide-n-go-seek. Or better yet, a game of sardines.


The kids would have loved to explore the nooks and crannies of the house. I’d have been right there with them—just as I’m sure Roosevelt would have too. But, obviously, we couldn’t do that. Instead, the kids ran and horsed in the yard. TR would have approved.


I suppose that is one reason why Theodore Roosevelt is my hero—he was a kid trapped in an adult body. Something, as I get older I try to emulate. Sadly, too often I fail, but Roosevelt is always there, with his toothy grin to invite me to live light heartedly. He knew how to have fun. He also lived in the present—completely engaged with and in whomever, whatever, or wherever he happened to find himself. In an age as schizophrenic as ours, his example of normality—engrossing yourself, with your whole being, into another person or a place or an activity . . . even running on the grounds of Sagamore Hill or rocking on the front porch of this great man’s house—is completely abnormal today.


I’d rather live in the normal. That’s why, for me, the visit to Sagamore Hill was the capstone of the trip. I wished we could have stayed longer . . . rocking on the front porch reading a good book; or going on an adventure with the kids. Either one would have met with the hearty approval of TR.


Yet, stay we couldn’t. We were bound for Philadelphia and the history of our independence and constitutional government. So, we left Sagamore Hill as Roosevelt would have wanted us to, with a smile. As our guide said, Roosevelt always welcomed his guest: “You must smile when you are at Sagamore Hill or I shall have to throw you out.” I was almost thrown out, not because of a frown . . . my grin was has broad has his, but because I was so reluctant to leave my rocking chair on the front porch.