Sunday, December 5, 2010

Life Lines 61


I seldom visit the treasures that abound around us. When I grew up in NY City I did not see a performance of the Metropolitan Opera until I attended Indiana University at Bloomington which has a superb musical school where the Met during off season used to perform. I went to the top of the Empire State Building once. I climbed to the lamp of the Statue of Liberty once. But I saw the Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art hundreds of times. I can’t use the argument I used in the Depression years that I could only attend places that were free or affordable for not seeing the Roosevelt estate at Sagamore Hill until recently. It is a remarkable federal park asset that is low in admission price and insists on providing a guided tour only. That gives the visitor a chance to learn a lot of history going from room to room looking at the life of a remarkable person who ranks among our more successful presidents. I knew of him as a military hero, as a conservationist, and as a trust buster. I did not realize how much ill health he had to contend with in his personal life and the terrible tragedy of the death of his first wife after childbirth.

Roosevelt made Americans aware of the natural beauty that would soon disappear if he had not initiated the establishment of national parks. He loved the outdoors and enjoyed exploring in distant countries. He preached the virtues of hard work and high ethical standards and he lived up to those virtues. He was a brave man and put his life at risk, serving as a model for his children. The death of his son in battle during World War I was a crushing emotional blow for him. I am grateful that the American Museum of Natural History honors his memory with a statue of him on horseback facing Central Park. I owe my life long love of studying biology to that museum and thus indirectly to Teddy Roosevelt.

The museum adjoining Roosevelt’s home is filled with photographs, clothing, trophies, and camping equipment he used. It was also a thrill to hear his voice – he was one of the first Presidents to have been recorded. The reproductions of the newspaper articles of the time also make history intimate. My wife Nedra, our daughter Erica, her friend from Florida, and my mother-in-law visiting us from Indiana were on hand for this trip. My mother-in-law enjoyed telling the guide that she was alive when Teddy Roosevelt was still alive. She was five when he died in 1919.

One pleasure you will experience is sitting on a wooden rocking chair on the porch of Roosevelt’s home while waiting for your group to go on tour. It is also the site of the peace treaty Roosevelt negotiated between Japan and Russia to settle the Russo-Japanese war of 1905 and for which he received a Nobel Peace Prize. Roosevelt dreamed of an international council of nations that would settle disputes by diplomacy instead of war. One hundred years later we have made only a snail’s progress toward Teddy Roosevelt’s goal, the United Nations still lacking the clout and respect such an institution demands.

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