Teddy Roosevelt’s Birthplace: “It’s Kind Of One Of Those Things”

Pictured above: East 20th Street, between Park and Broadway. Here are two important facts to know about this block:

  • President Theodore Roosevelt was born here on October 27, 1858.
  • Absolutely nothing has happened here since October 27, 1858.

Today, most passersby walk straight past the recreated brownstone, entirely oblivious to its historic value. But don’t take my word for it—watch this video I filmed from TR’s front stoop. Like everything about this block, it is unfathomably uneventful. (My working title was “Stoop Kid’s Afraid to Leave His Reconstructed Historic Brownstone.”)

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Walk Softly, But Carry a Big TweetDeck

I’m not sure what’s funnier—the revelation that the Teddy Roosevelt birthplace has a Twitter account (follow @TRBirthplaceNPS, kids!), or the fact that someone out there is retweeting this stuff. (Sometimes two people!)

Oh, and the site is closed. Indefinitely. For fire safety repairs. (More specifically, “A recent inspection conducted by an independent contractor noted several life-safety code deficiencies, to include the exterior emergency fire escape,” whatever that means.) God forbid Teddy Roosevelt’s home violate present day fire safety standards. It’s not like the guy personally quit his position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, booked it to Cuba, and charged the shit out of San Juan Hill or anything.

In case you didn’t get the announcement, they tweeted it three times:

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“I Want Roosevelt Again”: Scenes from Hyde Park

Franklin D. Roosevelt may have presided over the worst financial collapse of the twentieth century, but his luxurious Hydeaway estate (sorry, I’ll stop) reeks of old money. It’s no wonder young Franklin grew up riding, shooting, rowing, sailing, and learning German (yes, you read that correctly). Them Roosevelts and Delanos had mad dough.

I was strictly forbidden from photographing the interior of FDR’s house, but believe me when I say there’s a snuggery. Here is the outside:

And here is a shot of the genial tourists accompanying us on this journey, most of whom appear old enough to remember the Roosevelt administration. Can’t wait to see who shows up at the Cleveland birthplace next week.

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Read, Eat, Sleep

My first significant project expense will not be travel-related. It’s not even the admissions fee at the FDR site. That shit got straight-up waived; the kindly man behind the counter (was his name Victor?) spotted my notebook and asked if I was doing “a report for school.” I think he figured me for about 13? I nodded sheepishly. He let me in.

It’s my self-prescribed summer reading list. Sup, eighth grade.

Here’s the first shipment: Read the rest of this entry »


“What It Is Is History”: An Interview with Charlotte, FDR Historian

On Wednesday I visited the FDR National Historic Site (birthplace, family home, burial site, all-around stomping grounds) in Hyde Park, NY. There I met Charlotte, a generous and knowledgeable National Park ranger and FDR historian who has worked at the site for longer than I have been alive. (Disclaimer: a lot of people have worked at a lot of places for longer than I have been alive.) Charlotte assured me that the FDR historic site is “not an endorsement,” then pointed to the gift shop, where I could purchase New Deal slogan greeting cards and “I Want Roosevelt Again” pins.

More on this trip soon. Here’s my interview with Charlotte.

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Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.

Listen: this was supposed to be so much better.

It was supposed to involve Max, my seven-year-old French Water Dog, or “Barbet.” (Those are his eyes, above. Who’s a good boy?) The idea was to travel the country—Max, Klim, and I—visiting every presidential birthplace and photographing the dog in front of each one, possibly clad in period clothing.

All in one fell swoop.

We would make this a Tumblr, of course—Pictures of a Dog at Presidential Birthplaces, or something—and from there we would secure a coffee table book deal and make millions (read: hundreds) and possibly end up on The Today Show (read: YouTube). (I have great experience with frivolous coffee table book deals. Just last semester I submitted a reenact photo pairing to Young Me Now Me, expecting to find it on their site. They replied with other plans: they want us for the book. We’re famous!)

This idea emerged somewhere between an abandoned Coolidge Farm hilltop picnic table and home. Here’s a drunk self-shot we took atop the Coolidge Farm hill. (We were not actually drunk. We were simply experiencing what Edward O. Wilson terms “biophilia,” or something like it.) Read the rest of this entry »