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Theodore Roosevelt's Wild Ride to the Presidency: Part 2

Nov 22, 2016

As part of their time with us, we ask our digital cataloging interns to write a blog post to share some of their experiences and “finds” while working in the Roosevelt collections. Ashley Zengerski is a native of Buffalo, New York, a city that hosted one of only two U.S. presidential transitions to be held outside of Washington, D.C. (the first being that of George Washington, in Federal Hall in New York City). Ashley’s knowledge of the topics below has been influenced by local stories and her own visits to the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site. This is the second in a two-part entry.

Inauguration of Theodore Roosevelt

On September 13, news that President McKinley was failing reached Vice President Roosevelt as he was coming down from the mountain at Lake Tear-of-the-Clouds. News had already taken some time to reach him, but Roosevelt calmly continued to eat his dinner. He had no intention of returning to Buffalo unless he was really needed. Upon receiving another message, he made plans to leave the next day. The last message, received at 10 p.m., indicated that the president was dying, and thus Roosevelt began his famous dash through the night to Buffalo.

Through mud-soaked and dangerous trails, Roosevelt made record time with his relay team from Tahawus Club to North Creek. Members of the relay team had already known of the president’s death but refused to tell Roosevelt and add to his anxiety. Once in North Creek, Roosevelt took a train to Albany, and then on to Buffalo. He arrived in Buffalo around 1:30 p.m.

At this point, no plans had been made for the swearing in of the new president. An impromptu gathering of the cabinet members at the Wilcox home, where Roosevelt had often stayed, led to the official inauguration around 3 p.m. No one was quite sure of the protocol, so Roosevelt both said and wrote the oath. Normally, the spoken oath is sufficient, but the officials wanted to be sure the inauguration would not be contested.

The oath was taken in the library of the Wilcox home, with Roosevelt standing in front of the bay window. Press was admitted at the last moment, but they were not permitted to take photos.

The Wilcox Mansion Today

The mansion, today known as the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, has a long and fascinating history. The house seen today on Delaware Avenue was originally the officers’ quarters of the Buffalo Barracks, constructed in 1838 as a response to Canada’s Patriot War.

In 1846, the garrison was abandoned, and its structures were sold into private use. Several prominent Buffalonians owned the home, until 1883 when Ansley Wilcox received the home as a wedding gift. Under Wilcox, the home more than doubled in size.

Wilcox residence

Illustration of the Wilcox Mansion as it appeared on September 14, 1901.

After the Wilcoxes died in the 1930s the property became the site of a restaurant. The majority of the items in the house were auctioned and the mansion was substantially remodeled. In order to preserve local memory, the restaurant owners used a presidential theme. The restaurant became one of the most popular places to dine among Buffalo’s social elite.

In the 1960s, the mansion was formally declared a National Historic Site, and restoration work commenced to return the property to its appearance on September 14, 1901.

TR invite

The Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site officially opened to the public on September 14, 1971.

Today, there is a visitors’ center and shop to welcome attendees. The shop is filled with unique souvenirs relating to Roosevelt and Buffalo history. The first stop on the tour is an interactive exhibit about the Pan-American Exposition. The Captains of Industry game has you answer a series of questions to determine where on the corporate ladder you fit—unbelievably, I scored at the top! The Library has been recreated as if the inauguration was about to commence. Some of the original furniture has been returned, although most of the books and objects have been carefully selected by historians to be items Wilcox could have had at the time. Upstairs are more interactive and kid-friendly exhibits. One room is designed to replicate Roosevelt’s presidential office in the White House, and photos can be taken while sitting at the presidential desk. I enjoyed the interactive exhibits so much that by the time I finished a line had formed behind me!

I found the most informative portion of the tour to be the theater presentation. The setting is far more innovative than a simple movie. Instead, panels of printed glass are illuminated in correlation with the audio. The presentation focuses on Roosevelt’s life and policy, and afterwards the docent is sure to ask questions to illustrate how the policy is still relevant today.

Just as the site served to hold together the nation in 1901, it continues to bring the local community together through lectures and trivia nights. The museum also hosts the Buffalo-original Teddy Bear Picnic each year. Its presence in Buffalo serves to pay tribute to Roosevelt and the valuable policy changes he made while in office. I believe it is also a reminder of the shame of being the location of a presidential assassination.

Posted by Ashley Zengerski on Nov 22, 2016 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (0)  |  Share this post

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