New Roosevelt exhibit geared to reach all learners


The world was rapidly changing during Theodore Roosevelt’s lifetime, and he enthusiastically embraced it. He was the first president to leave the U.S. He was also the first president to drive a car, ride in a submarine and fly in an airplane.

A new exhibit, “Theodore Roosevelt, A Man for the Modern World,” will open on Sunday at the Old Orchard Museum at Sagamore Hill Historic Site in Oyster Bay Cove. Refreshments will be served, including a glass of raspberry shrub, the punch served in 1902 at a reception hosted by Roosevelt at Sagamore Hill for people living on Long Island. That day he shook 52 hands per minute. Upon leaving, people were given a souvenir — an engraved glass from Bloomingdales. One of the glasses is included in the exhibit.

The exhibit commemorates the 100th year of the 26th president’s death on Jan. 5, 1919. But it also celebrates his life. Originally slated to open on Jan. 6, the exhibit was delayed due to the government shutdown. It’s filled with historic documents, photographs, many never-before-seen artifacts and even film footage of Roosevelt being, well, Roosevelt.

The exhibit begins with the film. Its purpose is to grab the visitor’s attention, said Susan Sarna, the museum’s curator, who added that the goal is to educate, but also entertain.

“We have a lot of film footage of him on the grounds of Sagamore Hill so visitors can see what it was like when T.R. was here and they can take the same steps he took,” Sarna said.

The footage, on loan from the Library of Congress, shows an amiable Roosevelt climbing into a plane and chopping down a tree near his house in Oyster Bay Cove. The film serves to humanize Roosevelt.

The film and other visuals included in the exhibit are being used, Sarna said, to reach the modern learner. “Kids today need visuals,” she said. “They don’t want to read the long passages that we usually include with the items in the museum. We have to grab their attention.”

Besides the film, there is a small cutout of Roosevelt — Take Along T.R. — for children to bring home. It includes known facts about the former president and a few others that might appeal to a child. They are encouraged to share their adventures with the cutout of Roosevelt on Instagram and through social media. They can also see where their peers are taking their cutouts.

“When you provide an activity like this, you engage children,” Sarna explained. “One day I saw a group of children sitting on the floor pretending with their Take Along T.R. They were saying what they thought T.R. would say.”

The museum, which was Ted Roosevelt Jr.’s former home, has sometimes been overlooked by visitors eager to tour Sagamore Hill. In the past, if that was someone’s intent, there was no reason to travel the quarter-mile to the Old Orchard, because entry into Sagamore Hill, which required a ticket, could be purchased at the nearby visitor’s center. But a fire there on Christmas Eve destroyed the building.

Now people have to purchase their tickets at the Old Orchard Museum, which Sarna said has led to its rebirth. “So many visitors say they never knew the museum was here,” she said. “Now while they wait to tour the house, they tour the museum, and some come back after they see the house.” Sarna said she has already noticed an increase in visitation.

There are plenty of fun facts included in “Theodore Roosevelt, A Man for the Modern World,” which people may be hearing for the first time. For example, Roosevelt is listed in the Guinness World Records for shaking 8,510 hands at a New Year’s Day celebration at the White House in 1907. He was also the first president to invite an African-American, Booker T. Washington, to the White House for dinner.

“That’s why T.R. is on Mt. Rushmore,” Sarna said. “He brought us into the 20th century.”

Sagamore Hill Historic Site is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.