The century long chasm that separates us from the life and times of the Roosevelt administration can be difficult to cross. Can you picture an American flag with 45 or 46 stars (Oklahoma became the 46th state during Roosevelt’s presidency)? Even more terrifying, what if your cell phone wasn’t invented for another seven decades? The Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library can help us cross this gap of time and provide a glimpse into a bygone world of off-kilter flags and paper based communications.
One interesting facet of this era that can be teased out of digital library documents is how our forebearers spent their free time. President Roosevelt enjoyed going on horseback rides and “scrambles” through Rock Creek Park. He also studied judo while in the White House and suffered several minor injuries while practicing singlestick with his friend General Leonard Wood.
Roosevelt was also a man of letters and certainly enjoyed the occasional wordplay when writing to his friends. As such, he certainly would have been pleased with the letter he received from John Q. Boyer, President of the Eastern Puzzlers’ League. Boyer, whose nom de plume in the puzzling world was Primrose, must have been an anagrammist of note because in January 1903 his article, “Some American Anagrams,” was published in The Era, a monthly literature magazine. For those of you who haven’t thought about anagrams since grade school English class, an anagram is a word, phrase, or sentence formed from another by rearranging its letters (definition from Webster’s Universal College Dictionary, 2001). Amongst other American themed anagrams, including William J. Bryan as “Brainy jaw-mill,” the article features an anagram of Theodore Roosevelt reflecting the unfortunate circumstances of his ascension to the Presidency, “Hero told to oversee!”
Sadly, Roosevelt’s response to Boyer’s letter does not appear to be part of the collection. However, a hint at his feelings towards being anagrammatized can be found in a handwritten note at the top of the letter which appears to be in Roosevelt’s hand. Referring to the magazine with the “Some American Anagrams” article that Boyer claims to be sending, it reads “Has it come?”
Letter from John Q. Boyer to Theodore Roosevelt, January 12, 1903. From the Library of Congress Manuscripts division.