This is part one of a three-part series by Melanie Bayless Veteto, an enthusiastic historian and a friend and volunteer with the Theodore Roosevelt Center. Melanie lives in Carlsbad, California.
Theodore Roosevelt became President on a dark night under the darker circumstances of President William McKinley’s death. It was September 14, 1901. President McKinley had been shot eight days prior while visiting the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Roosevelt, ever the adventurer, was on an island in the middle of Lake Champlain in upstate Vermont when he was first summoned to Buffalo. After several days of watching and waiting (not TR’s strength), Roosevelt was encouraged by McKinley’s doctors to leave Buffalo, to reassure the American public that the president was, indeed, recovering. Four days after the assassination attempt, TR joined his family in the Adirondack Mountains. It was there, while hiking New York’s high point, that he received a telegram asking him to return to Buffalo. He went as quickly as he could and was sworn into office in the library of his friend and host, Ansley Wilcox, on Saturday, September 14.
That was 112 years and one month ago.
Last month Buffalo again hosted a Roosevelt event at the home of Ansley Wilcox: the 94th annual meeting of the Theodore Roosevelt Association (TRA). The home still sits beautifully on a slight rise above Delaware Street, a gracious Greek Revival home exuding Southern-style charm in a distinctly Northern climate. It has been restored from its lean years as a Buffalo tea house back into the home – and more importantly, the library – that Wilcox and Roosevelt would recognize. Its official name is the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site. I still call it the Wilcox Mansion.
Melanie, Cindi, and Sharon at the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site. Photo courtesy of Melanie Bayless Veteto.
Some friends and I met in Buffalo on September 20, just a few days after the anniversary of Roosevelt’s inauguration as president. Our plan was to attend the TRA meetings and then adventure off into Buffalo- and Adirondack-lands. Cindi Penor Ceglian, a long-time TR enthusiast, was our guide and coordinator. She had carefully and thoroughly researched the TR sites in both the Buffalo and Adirondack regions and had compiled a fairly exacting itinerary, considering that we had but three days to accomplish it. Sharon Kilzer, Project Manager of the Theodore Roosevelt Center, was what Cindi titled the “prestige bringer” to our adventurous trio. She managed to keep excellent spirits throughout in spite of being stuffed in the back seat with a good deal of souvenirs and not nearly enough headroom. I acted as chauffeur.
Our first stop was Niagara Falls, where McKinley had visited on the morning of the assassination attempt. Unlike McKinley, we were not protocol-bound so we crossed into Canada. We spent three hours on the cliffs and $30 on a parking ticket.
Niagara Falls. Photo courtesy of Melanie Bayless Veteto
Over the next two afternoons, between conference sessions, we visited the Buffalo sites on our list: the well-interpreted Wilcox Mansion, where TR took the oath of office; the Buffalo History Museum, which houses a replica of the gun used to shoot McKinley, and the site where the Temple of Music once stood, where McKinley was shot. The Wilcox Mansion has undergone tremendous improvements, both to the interior and exterior, under the capable administration of Executive Director Molly Quackenbush. You should see it. The Buffalo History Museum is the only building extant from the 1901 Exposition and for that reason alone is worthy of a visit. It sits in Delaware Park, a gem designed by the great American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. A fine bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln sits overlooking the park and Scajaquada Creek, which meanders through it. The site of the Temple of Music is just a few blocks from the museum. The site marker rests alone in a vacant little median on a sleepy residential street because the Temple itself was a victim of Buffalo’s raze craze following the Exposition. It is quite a small marker and is easy to miss, but I think McKinley would appreciate the effort and the marker’s simplicity.
On the first day of fall, with our Buffalo sites completed, we headed east. Our mountain must-see list included: North Creek Depot, the train station to and from which the Roosevelts accessed the region; the Adirondack Museum, which houses a carriage from TR’s famous night ride to the presidency; McNaughton Cottage in Tahawus, near Newcomb, the home where the Roosevelts stayed; a plaque along New York’s highway 28N near the spot where Roosevelt was at the moment of McKinley’s death (and therefore where he actually ascended to the presidency); and a drive along the whole of highway 28N, now named the Roosevelt-Marcy Memorial Highway, because it was along this route that Roosevelt traveled to North Creek Depot and thence to Buffalo upon McKinley’s death.