A Bully Day at Sagamore Hill, Teddy Roosevelt’s New York Summer White House

Does Sagamore Hill ring a bell for you? If it does, you’re probably a Theodore Roosevelt fan and know that Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, New York was Teddy Roosevelt’s home and Summer White House, during his presidency, and has been a museum since Edith Roosevelt’s death in 1948, becoming a National Historic Site in 1962. In December 2011, the Sagamore Hill house on Long Island was closed for renovations, though the property, Old Orchard Museum and Visitor Center remained open. On July 12, 2015, the National Park Service, which owns and operates Sagamore Hill, threw a grand re-opening party to celebrate the renovation.  Continue reading for more of my Bully Day at Sagamore Hill, that re-opened with bands, horses, and family fun.

Sagamore Hill

Sagamore Hill

The party started with an opening ceremony at the house, complete with ribbon cutting. Theodore Roosevelt was on hand (played excellently by Jim Foote), chatting with people, and posing for selfies (guilty) and photos; thanking National Park Service Superintendent Kelly Furhmann and Museum Specialist Susan Sarna cut the ribbon, opened the door, and Teddy walked in, calling out, “I’m home” as he raised his hat. I admit to tearing up when he said that.

Front Door of Sagamore Hill

Front Door of Sagamore Hill

Teddy Roosevelt entering Sagamore Hill

Teddy Roosevelt entering Sagamore Hill

The opening of the house started the house tours. On a first-come, first-served basis, people were permitted access to the ground floor in groups of eight. The line quickly got long, so I was very happy to have toured all three floors of the house the previous day. You can see the results of the renovations on the main house in my photo tour of the renovated house by clicking here.

Line to tour Sagamore Hill

Line to tour Sagamore Hill

Down in the old Farm Shed, Kathleen Bart, author and illustrator of Tale of Two Teddies, led a charming program for children and not-so-young children, taking them through her book, which chronicles the creation of the teddy bear, which was named after Teddy Roosevelt, no matter who created it first. She was patient and had her audience repeat things and then circled back to ask questions about those things later in the presentation. The children were fully engaged, hands flying up every time she asked a question or for a volunteer. To top off an already excellent program, she finished up with a lesson on how to draw a teddy bear, then pulled a child out of the audience and added details from the child to the drawing, personalizing it and then signed it and gave it to the child. She then signed copies of her book in the Visitor Center (yes, I bought one and she drew a teddy bear under her signature).

Bart Program at Sagamore Hill

Author Kathleen Bart’s program at Sagamore Hill

Bart Drawing Teddy Bear at Sagamore Hill

Kathleen Bart drawing a Teddy Bear at Sagamore Hill

From then on, the activities were less structured. There was a marquee on the lawn with tables of various organizations offering information and activities to attendees. I picked up some books about Oyster Bay, a personalized ticket to the Raynham Hall Museum, and considered joining the Theodore Roosevelt Association. The Boy Scouts of America were handing out patches to children.  Up in front of the house, there was a display of Historic Carriages (from Shadbelly Farm). In a side field, traditional children’s games were available for play (I regret not trying the hoop and missed the egg-and-spoon race). Down at the fence between two pastures were children’s crafts, a petting zoo, and pony rides. From the field next to the windmill, Michael Falco’s Celebration, a replica Wurlitzer military band organ played period pieces.

Carriages at Sagamore Hill

Carriages at Sagamore Hill

Children's Crafts at Sagamore Hill

Children’s Crafts at Sagamore Hill

Alpaca at Sagamore Hill

Alpaca at Sagamore Hill

Celebration at Sagamore Hill

Celebration at Sagamore Hill

By far, though, the best activity for children (and adults watching) was the Rough Ride Enlistment. Several tents were set up in a corner of the pasture, with horses all long the fence. Each child was asked his or her age (when given the true age, the recruiter would remind the child that Rough Riders had to be 17 to serve and the child would promptly claim to be 17). A form was filled out and, after a brief swearing-in, the child was sent to the doctor for a physical examination.

Rough Rider Form at Sagamore Hill

Rough Rider Form at Sagamore Hill

 

The “doctor” asked if the child could hear and see him and whether s/he had teeth. If the answer to each was yes, the child had passed the physical. The doctor would then scratch the number 17 into the ground, stand the child on the 17, and have them solemnly swear that s/he was over 17. It never failed to crack up the adults and the children would march off to the equipment tent.

Medical Tent at Sagamore Hill

Medical Tent at Sagamore Hill

At the equipment tent, a Cuban soldier explained the weapons and gear that the Rough Riders would have been given. They were then sent to “choose” their horse. It was one of the best interactive events I’ve seen for children, truly bringing the Rough Rider experience to life.

Rough Rider Gear Tent at Sagamore Hill

Rough Rider Gear Tent at Sagamore Hill

A Rough Rider demonstration followed, with Rough Riders showing off their equestrian skills and swordsmanship.

Rough Rider Splitting Coconut at Sagamore Hill

Rough Rider Splitting Coconut at Sagamore Hill

At 2 pm, the Theodore Roosevelt Division of the US Naval Sea Cadets Corps presented colors and the Sagamore Hill Band played the National Anthem and then a medly of Teddy’s campaign songs, leading into “Hail to the Chief” to welcome Teddy onto the stage.

TR Sea Cadets Present Colors at Sagamore Hill

TR Sea Cadets Present Colors at Sagamore Hill

As “Hail to the Chief” wound down, Teddy exited the house and stood in front of the invited speakers, booming out his speech without needing the microphone or notes.

Teddy Roosevelt exiting Sagamore Hill

Teddy Roosevelt exiting Sagamore Hill

The Sagamore Hill Band then played “The Thunderer,” a John Philip Sousa march, before Brian Strack from the National Park Service addressed the crowd. They next played “President Roosevelt’s Gran Triumphal” to introduce Tweed Roosevelt, a great grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, who regaled us with family tales and visiting the house as a child.

Tweed Roosevelt at Sagamore Hill

Tweed Roosevelt at Sagamore Hill

The Roosevelt Songbirds (the relevance of the name is the Theodore Roosevelt Bird Sanctuary back on the main road to town) sang “Alice Blue Gown” (inspired by Alice Roosevelt) and then Sagamore Hill Band played the original instrumental version of “Teddy Bears’ Picnic” (we were instructed to listen for the trumpets to growl like bears).

Roosevelt Songbirds at Sagamore Hill

Roosevelt Songbirds at Sagamore Hill

Sagamore Hill Band Trumpeters Growling at Sagamore Hill

Sagamore Hill Band Trumpeters Growling at Sagamore Hill

I was running late for my train back to the city, but I stayed on to hear Theodore Roosevelt, IV, who told more stories about the house and his grandmother.

Teddy Roosevelt, IV at Sagamore Hill

Teddy Roosevelt, IV at Sagamore Hill

Then, it was time for me to go, so I missed the sing-along of “Down in Oyster Bay” and “Teddy, You’re a Bear.” The final songs on the program were “Yankee Doodle Boy” and “Sagamore Hill.” I’m sorry I missed Michael Canfield’s speech – he’s a Theodore Roosevelt Scholar at Harvard University and I’m sure he shared quite a few interesting stories about our Teddy.

It was a fun day at Sagamore Hill, but don’t think it won’t be just as much fun without all those activities. My family loves visiting Sagamore Hill at any time of year. My nieces ask to visit at Christmas, when they’re home for the holidays. They recently discovered the stiles in the pasture and we climbed over them repeatedly. The Old Orchard Museum and Visitor’s Center have been open throughout the house’s closure.

Stile and Orchard House at Sagamore Hill

Stile and Orchard House at Sagamore Hill

The hills and pastures are great places for picnics and there are lovely old trees to read under, including my favorite tree there, the huge Copper Beech right in front of the house. There are trails to wander and the old carriage road, which was the house’s original approach, is like taking a walk to visit the Roosevelts. Sagamore Hill is a wonderful place for all types of families and is well worth the trip (about an hour from NYC by train and taxi) and you can go all year round. In fact, in winter, when the trees are bare, you can see Oyster Bay (the bay itself, not the namesake hamlet) from the hill.

Copper Beech at Sagamore Hill

Copper Beech at Sagamore Hill

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About George Gensler

George Gensler is a copyrights specialist during the week and a runner on the weekends. She lives in New York City now, but has lived in five countries on three continents. She grew up traveling the world, but her official residence was in Southern California and every visit home included a trip to Disneyland. She has also visited every Disney Park around the world and sailed on board two Disney cruises. She threw in a visit to the Disney Family museum in San Francisco for good measure, and has had the Premier Disney Park Pass since its inception.