In a move that blends the rich history of Oyster Bay with cutting-edge technology, the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum has unveiled its new Theodore Roosevelt Augmented Reality experience. Funded by a grant from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, the initiative promises to transform museum visitors’ experience and make Roosevelt’s legacy more accessible to a diverse audience.
The museum is the latest cultural institution on Long Island to launch an augmented-reality app to bring history to life, and the Gardiner foundation has supported similar programs at local museums such as Raynham Hall in Oyster Bay. The foundation was established in 1987, and supports the study of Long Island history and its role in the American experience.
Visitors to the railroad museum can now download the free Theodore Roosevelt Augmented Reality app and observe the 26th president as he magically comes to life to tell stories about his life in Oyster Bay and his connection to its historic train station.
“It’s going to allow people to visit us when we’re closed, so they can have the experience year-round,” Ann Balderston-Glynn, a museum board member, explained. “It’s a really nice addition to our museum.”
When Roosevelt became president, the Oyster Bay Railroad Station was transformed from a transportation hub into a symbol of power. There Roosevelt welcomed many of the world’s heads of state and creative geniuses of the time. The importance of the station — now the railroad museum — and the role it played in Roosevelt’s presidency are brought to life in little-known stories highlighted in the augmented-reality app.
The app works on both Android and Apple devices, and encompasses four sites. In addition to the museum, they include the Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary and Audubon Center, in Oyster Bay; Meadow Croft, in Sayville; and the Montauk Historical Society.
“The generous grant from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation for the TRAR app will provide a unique opportunity for visitors to experience T.R.’s legacy at the landmark station building,” John Specce, the museum’s director, wrote in a statement. “We look forward to this exciting new chapter in the museum’s long history of telling the compelling story of Theodore Roosevelt.”
The grant not only provides a unique technological experience, but also encourages collaboration among the four participating sites. Balderston-Glynn said that they plan to promote one another, fostering a sense of community and encouraging visitors to explore the Roosevelt experience at all four locations.
The railroad museum, she said, chose to highlight Roosevelt’s connection with the railroad. The museum collaborated closely with 360 XR, a company which creates apps that bring history to life through digital storytelling, on scripting, ensuring that the stories told on the augmented-reality tour resonated with the history of Roosevelt’s association with the train station.
The museum launched the program on Nov. 15, and the response has been positive, with board members and volunteers expressing enthusiasm, according to Balderston-Glynn. Notably, Joe Weigand, who portrays Roosevelt in educational and cultural events, tested the app and gave it his approval. Weigand’s involvement extends beyond his live impersonations: He is the voice of Roosevelt in the app, adding an authentic touch to the augmented-reality experience.
Balderston-Glynn highlighted the significance of the Roosevelt experience for smaller museums like the railroad museum. The app, with its game-like features and mobile accessibility, is expected to appeal to young people, making history more engaging and fun for a new generation.
The museum is particularly excited about the app’s ability to transcend physical constraints, rendering the museum’s operating hours moot and thereby addressing a common challenge faced by seasonal institutions. This feature aligns with the museum’s broader goal of making history accessible year-round.
As the Roosevelt experience continues to attract attention, Balderston-Glynn said that the railroad museum looks forward to welcoming visitors from near and far into the former president’s immersive world. With technology bridging the gap between the past and the present, the museum is set to help write the next chapter of Oyster Bay’s distinguished history.