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Friday, September 14, 2012

1901: Teddy Roosevelt Becomes the First New Yorker to be President

On September 14, 1901, William McKinley succumbed to the gunshot wound he'd suffered eight days earlier at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, thus elevating Theodore Roosevelt to the presidency.

Not only was Roosevelt America's youngest president (at age 42), he was the only one to be born and raised in New York City. As we write in Inside the Apple:
[Roosevelt] was born on October 27, 1858, in the family’s brownstone townhouse at 28 East 20th Street. Often in poor health as a child, much of Teddy’s later bully and bravado was the result of the exercise he undertook in and around Gramercy Park, Madison Square, and Union Square—where his grandfather lived—to boost his physique. The Roosevelt family moved out of the 20th Street house in 1872, and in 1916, the building was demolished to make way for a restaurant and retail shops.

The construction of the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace is a good example of how a person’s stock can rise after death—especially a former president. In 1916, when the original home was torn down, T.R. was still a polarizing figure in American politics. Having run unsuccessfully as the third-party candidate for president in 1912—which split the vote and ensured the election of Democrat Woodrow Wilson—Roosevelt chose in 1916 to throw his support behind Republican Charles Evans Hughes in an effort to thwart Wilson’s reelection. But he did so only after the Republican Party made it clear that Roosevelt would not be given the nomination himself. Three years later, he was dead and within weeks he was being lionized. The New York State legislature chartered the Woman’s Roosevelt Memorial Association a mere 23 days after Roosevelt’s death. By mid March, the organization had purchased the building that had gone up in place of T.R.’s boyhood home as well as the property next door, which had been owned by Roosevelt’s uncle, Robert. Their plan was to “restore” the houses as they would have looked in 1865, based on the “description written by Colonel Roosevelt in his autobiography.” What this meant, in practice, was tearing the buildings down and starting from scratch. In 1923, the newly built home was opened to the public and was praised as a “shrine to American patriotism.”
When President McKinley was shot on September 6, Roosevelt rushed to Buffalo, but the president's condition soon improved and it was thought that sending Roosevelt to join his family on vacation would send a hopeful signal to the American people. Roosevelt and his family vacationed in the Adirondacks and on September 13, the Vice President summitted Mount Marcy. Camping at Lake Tear of the Clouds nearby, Roosevelt's party was interrupted by a trail guide who had come with a telegram from Secretary of War Elihu Root: "The president appears to be dying and members of the cabinet in Buffalo think you should lose no time in coming."

Roosevelt quickly descended twelve miles to the Tahawas Club, a hunting resort, and then left via stagecoach (in the dark and the fog) to North Creek, the closest train station. By the time Roosevelt had reached North Creek, McKinley had died, and Roosevelt was sworn in in Buffalo later that day.

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Read more about Theodore Roosevelt and the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace in Manhattan in

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