Today in History, January 6, 1919:
“Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight.”
-Vice President Thomas Marshall.
President Theodore Roosevelt dies at Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay, New York in his sleep of a heart attack. “Teddy” had taken every last drop of adventure and worthiness that he could squeeze out of life in the preceding 60 years.
Roosevelt had been a sickly child; constantly plagued by breathing problems, he could rarely play with the other children. His father, Theodore Sr., a remarkable man himself, told “Teedie” that if he wanted to have a successful life, he would have to take charge and force his body into the form he needed to match his intellect. Roosevelt did just that. He took exercise as his “raison detre” until he was barrel chested and of vigorous health. Each time he became sick during his life, he would simply work through it.
As a young man, while serving in the New York Assembly, Roosevelt was called home from Albany by an urgent message. After the train ride to NYC, he arrived home to be met at the door by his brother, “There is a curse upon this house.”
Roosevelt’s wife and mother died on the same day…February 14, 1884, within hours of each other. Writing in his diary only a large X and the words “The light has gone out of my life”, Roosevelt fled into the west, becoming a rancher and for a time a lawman in the Dakota Territory. The experience would strengthen him and give him a background people respected.
During his life he was a state rep from New York, the Police Commissioner for New York City, Governor of New York, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (he oversaw the building of a modern US Navy while his boss was not paying attention), he led the “Rough Riders” (1st Volunteer US Cavalry) up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War, became Vice President, and the President after President McKinley was assassinated.
As President he defined the modern presidency, breaking up monopolies, seeing that mistreated workers got a fair shake, sent the “Great White Fleet” around the world establishing American as a world influence, saw the Panama Canal built, saw the establishment of the National Parks Service, and countless other accomplishments.
He worked tirelessly for the American people. After the Presidency he traveled extensively, going on an African Safari, and exploring an unknown region of South America, “The River of Doubt”; a region so treacherous that it was considered a no-man’s land. He nearly died in the mapping of the river, now called “Rio Roosevelt” in his honor.
All of his male children fought in WWI, and the only reason Teddy didn’t was because the Democrat President (Wilson) refused to let him, afraid Roosevelt would run against him in the next election and win. One of his sons, Quentin, would be shot down over France and be killed. That was the last straw for the “Old Lion”. He mourned dreadfully until his death.
One of his other children, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., would be the only General to go ashore with the troops at D-Day in WWII; Teddy Jr would die of a heart attack himself several weeks after the Normandy invasion. The entire world would mourn President Roosevelt’s passing; he had become larger that life, a hero to people the world over. The quintessential American. And in case you couldn’t tell, my favorite Hero.
At TR’s funeral at Oyster Bay, what I believe is the best, most heartfelt eulogy was spoken in passing. Walking from the church a New York City Police Captain who had served with Roosevelt more than 20 years earlier when he was Police Commissioner, was overcome with emotion. He turned to TR’s sister and asked, “Oh…do you remember the FUN of him?”