Tucked safely in the Theodore Roosevelt Room at Grace Reformed Church in Washington, D.C., is a set of toy soldiers purported to have belonged to a little boy named Johnny Schick, who received them from none other than President Roosevelt himself.
From 1901-1909, Roosevelt attended Grace Reformed Church regularly, beginning when he was Vice President and ending when he left Washington, D.C., after his second term as President. Roosevelt even laid the cornerstone of the church in 1902 and spoke at its dedication in 1903.
Johnny Schick was six years old in 1901, and the youngest in a family with four children. His father, Reverend Dr. John M. Schick, was pastor of the church.
According to correspondence received by the TR Center from Johnny Schick’s granddaughter, Maggie Wright, stories about TR and “little” Johnny were part of the family lore passed down from generation to generation in the Schick household. Apparently, Johnny was not always very well behaved in church.
“Mama used to tell me President Roosevelt used to give my grandfather candy to keep him quiet during the service,” wrote Maggie Wright. “There was another story about Johnny sticking his tongue out at the President.”
Roosevelt clearly didn’t approve of Johnny Schick’s behavior and proved the family lore in a letter he wrote to his son Kermit Roosevelt on Sunday, May 8, 1904. After describing the beautiful spring weather and the family’s outings of the day, Roosevelt continues the letter in this way:
“This morning I went to church; Johnny Schick was on the rampage, and I wished his parents would discipline him.”
Detail, Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Kermit Roosevelt, May 8, 1904. MS Am 1541 (77). Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University. Electronic copy sponsored by the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University. For reproduction or publication permission, contact the Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Houghton Library.
As for the toy soldiers, one wonders if Roosevelt gave them to little Johnny to keep him quiet during services, or if at some point Johnny’s behavior improved and the gift was his reward.
We will probably never know.
“Since, unfortunately, my grandfather died before I was born, I only have the stories that had been passed down to his daughter,” wrote Wright. “Mother told me a story about the President saying that he wished they would discipline little Johnny. To see it in print in his letter to Kermit is such a treasure.”