Friday, March 11, 2011

Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace: 20th St & Broadway

I'm sure I've walked past this unassuming brownstone (see left) innumerable times without ever realizing that this was the birthplace of Teddy Roosevelt, our 26th President.  The house was given as a gift from his grandfather Cornelius (who made a fortune importing plate and stained glass and was ranked among the top 5 wealthiest men in New York in his day) to his parents upon their marriage.  Teddy and his three siblings: Elliott (father of Eleanore Roosevelt who married her father's 5th cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR)), Anna, and Corinne were born in this house, and the family lived here until 1873 when they moved to West 57th Street, which was considered a more residential "country" home. 

Where visitors enter the house now for tours (which are free and given on the hour) is the lower level that was once reserved for servants with the kitchen and other working rooms.  The first floor up was where family visitors would have entered.  On this level, there is a formal parlor that was Teddy's favorite room; it had the most natural light and the furnishings were very fine.  The national park ranger who gave us our tour told us a quaint anecdote about how Teddy loved the chandelier in this room (see right) and when one day he found that a crystal had fallen from the chandelier he pocketed it and played with it for over a week until guilt overcame him and he confessed to his mother. 

Throughout this floor, which has the parlor the dining room and the library, and the 3rd floor, which has the master bedroom and the nursery, you can see furniture and decorative objects from the original home.  In fact about 75% of the furnishings are original, and the remainder are period pieces (like the piano which is the same type owned by the Roosevelts, although not the original from the home and the china donated to the Theodore Roosevelt Association by Eleanore Roosevelt--although there is one piece of the family's original rose china on display (see left)). 

It was like walking back in time to see Teddy's infant crib, his childhood chair, the family dining room set (another gift from his grandfather to his parents), and his parents' original bed in their master bedroom (see right).  The park ranger tour guide also had great stories about Teddy's hobby of taxidermy and his father's attempts to cure Teddy of his asthma by blowing cigar smoke into his face and giving him black coffee as a child. 

If you are interested in American history, this tour is right up your alley.  It is just hard to believe that this exists just a few blocks north of Union Square.  Later this year the next door neighbor's house (which belonged to Teddy's uncle--yes, another gift from Grandfather Cornelius) is scheduled to re-open later this year as a museum after the electrical is upgraded and the exhibits are re-installed.

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