Review: Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace


New York is full of exciting historical sites, but sometimes it's hard to know what the best ones are. After many, many Google searches, I landed on the Teddy Roosevelt Birthplace, a small and unassuming brownstone in Midtown that is a recreation of the house in which our twenty-sixth president grew up. Last weekend, I made the trip down and spent a couple of hours exploring.


The upstairs period rooms of the house can only be seen via guided tour with a park ranger. These tours last about thirty to forty-five minutes and happen every hour or so (check the website for more details). Make sure to get to the site a bit early to get your name on the list for the next tour, as they are limited to fifteen people. There's plenty to do while you wait for your tour, including a film, exhibit, and bathrooms. The tours, because they're led by rangers, will naturally differ a bit depending on who you get as your guide but mine was a nice balance between being informative enough that it felt worthwhile without going over anyone's heads. 


The Roosevelt family occupied a house at 28 East 20th Street from 1872 until Theodore (or "Teedie" as he was known in his youth) was fourteen years old. His father was a businessman and ardent philanthropist while his mother was a Southern belle from Georgia. Teedie and his three siblings were born and grew up in the house, living a life of comfort as they were one of the leading families of New York City despite the personal tragedies that plagued them. 


While his older sister Anna suffered from spinal issues, Theodore was a sickly and frail child largely due to his severe asthma. When he was eleven years old, upon his father's advice, he began trying to build up his own strength by doing exercises on the back porch. Over time, the scholarly bookish young boy gained the physique and health that we associate today with Theodore Roosevelt as a Rough Rider and robust president who was passionate about national parks. The tour naturally focuses on his youth spent on the site, so it's useful to visit the exhibit first to learn about his career. 


While the house the Theodore actually lived in was demolished in 1916, after his death, his second wife and sisters began the process of rebuilding it. It opened to the public in 1923 and was donated to the National Park Service in 1963. Having been planned and restored by people who had lived in and visited the house themselves (his second wife Edith Carrow was a childhood friend of his sister's), it is surely as close as we can get to knowing exactly what it would have been like when he lived there. Most of the furniture and other items in the house belonged to the Roosevelt family, even if they were not actually in the house itself. 


The exhibit downstairs is a great place to explore after you've checked into the next tour. It mostly consists of quotes from Theodore and photographs of him and his family. However, they also have a handful of very neat artifacts including one of his Rough Riders uniforms and the shirt he was wearing when he was shot in an assassination attempt. There is additionally a little half hour film that is delightfully hokey about his boyhood and how he overcame his sickliness. 


Overall, this free museum is a great place to spend a few hours and learn more about one of the most interesting presidents this country has ever had. After going, I am currently looking into the best biography of Theodore Roosevelt to read! I highly recommend it to anyone living or visiting New York City. For more information, check out the museum's website

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