Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Charge! Finishing the Great 2008 T.R. Tour

For the last six months, my wife, daughter and dog have joined me on a grand American adventure - a Theodore Roosevelt journey throughout the United States, performing as and paying homage to the Rough Rider President in celebration of his 150th year. We call it the Great 2008 TR Tour.

After enjoying a restful visit with Grandma in Sewanee, Tennessee, the T.R. Tour launches the home stretch, with a planned celebration in late October in T.R.’s hometown of Oyster Bay, Long Island.

Living in close quarters in a recreational vehicle and towing a small car for running around, we have travelled over 32,000 miles. We have entertained thousands of people and have been shown kindnesses by hundreds more. Family and friends have been amazing along the way.

We have made some T.R. performance or visit in thirty-four states, beginning our trek with a plan to visit the forty-eight continental states. The U.S. Navy commanded a performance in Honolulu, Hawaii, so the tour faces the big state question: When can we get to Alaska?
Either fifteen or sixteen states to go, hopefully all before T.R.’s birthday on October 27th.

Wonderfully, many places have quickly asked us back, so T.R. Joe is likely to take a second lap, returning home between performances as the ladies have made clear their desire to re-establish home base.

The TR Tour began on Presidents Day, February 18, 2008, with a performance at the Lyceum in Alexandria, Virginia followed by a delightful parade full of firefighters, scouts and soldiers.

We were quickly on to Boston and a visit with the curator of the Theodore Roosevelt Collection at Harvard’s Houghton Library and Marblehead to perform for Tower School. On our return pilgrimage we visited T.R.’s New York City birthplace and the American Museum of Natural History, then Oyster Bay and Sagamore, the family home. We knelt in gratitude at the gravesites of Theodore and Edith Roosevelt on a hill in Young’s Cemetery.

Performances in Florida beckoned, and along the way, the Theodore Roosevelt State Natural Area along Pine Knolls Shore, North Carolina called for adventure.


At Roswell, Georgia, the home of T.R.’s mother Mittie Bulloch, the grounds and buildings of Bulloch Hall still whisper the thrilling Southern stories Mittie and Aunt Susan told “Teedie” and his siblings. I stood where T.R.’s father, Theodore, and his mother, Martha, stood on December 22, 1853, taking their vows of marriage. Knelt where the Bulloch family knelt, the same Presbyterian church where Martha’s father died while teaching Sunday school. Our dinner show at J.Christopher’s was a smash. T.R. was half Southerner, and that half gave him much of his stuff as a man.

Soon after arriving in Florida we were visiting and celebrating Pelican Island, T.R.’s first bird sanctuary, regarded as the first National Wildlife Refuge. We camped in Tampa, Florida, home to the Plant Museum, in its day the finest hotel on the Florida Gulf Coast, host to the American Armed Forces as they mustered for the war with Spain in Cuba. Further south, we entertained amidst the charms of Sanibel’s Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge and just beyond in Captiva, where TR hunted devil fish.


In Tennessee we celebrated the 150 years of the University of the South in Sewanee and celebrated Sewanee men who had joined T.R. in the arena: Presidential Aide Captain Archie Butt and future Surgeon General William Crawford Gorgas, who conquered Panama’s yellow fever.

In Hillsboro, Alabama, on the front porch of Pond Spring, the tour paid honor to General Joe Wheeler, the man who commanded volunteers in Cuba, and who thirty-three years earlier had been a general leading half of Lee’s cavalry.

In Mississippi, Onward marks the memory of T.R.’s famous refusal to shoot a wounded bear, birthplace of the teddy bear by most accounts. Beyond Onward we explored the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Complex with such evocative names as Holt Collier and Panther Swamp.

In Louisiana, we stopped by the McIlheney Company, home of Tabasco © It was Jack McIlheney, one of T.R.’s Rough Rider officers, who had T.R. down to hunt that bear. Great hot sauce to spice your game.

At Jacinto and the Alamo, we remembered those who lay down their lives for the Republic of Texas, among them, Davy Crockett. Was T.R. a fan of the King of the Wild Frontier? He named Boone & Crockett after his frontier heroes. At San Antonio’s historic Menger Hotel, TR came to life to the delight of guests from around the world, one hundred and ten years after having recruited Rough Riders there.


On to Oklahoma and the Witchita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge and Kansas where T.R.’s newspaper publishing friend William Allen White and T.R.’s New Nationalism have roots and stand in testimony of the Roosevelt legacy. Here in the West we were really in T.R. Territory, most of the Rough Riders hailing from Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma, then Indian Territory and made a state during T.R’s administration. No surprise that towns like Roosevelt, Oklahoma are named for him, that vast tracks of public lands owe their care to his actions.

In New Mexico, the small town of Las Vegas has a fantastic municipal museum housing a great Rough Rider collection, the Rough Riders often gathering in the town park for their annual get-togethers in the decades after the Spanish American War. We certainly appreciated the Boy Scout Ranch at Cimarron, where generations of young men have followed in the scout tradition so fully embraced by TR, the BSA’s first and only “Chief Scout Citizen”.

In New Mexico, El Morro, and in Arizona, the Petrified Forest and Montezuma’s Castle announced the Monuments and Antiquities Act, the National Parks grew in number and expanse. Roosevelt Dam is aptly named for the executive who successfully pushed the Newlands Reclamation Act that dammed and irrigated the rivers of the West.

For the first time in my life, I witnessed the Grand Canyon and made at least one hike down its rocky switchbacks. We’d begun to live a much more vigorous life along the way quite appropriate as I portray the father of the Strenuous Life. When we went to sleep on a warm spring night on the southeastern rim, little did we expect to wake to six inches of snow.
Roosevelt Point on the North Rim would have to wait for another trip. The highways north were closed and we had Seattle and the U.S. Navy as a destination two short weeks away. Our dash across the Southwest was in full swing.

A visit to Nevada’s Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest was the first of many touchstone experiences with the United States Forest Service, established in 1905 with Gifford Pinchot at its head, such a cornerstone of T.R.’s conservation philosophy and, more importantly, the philosophy applied to action.

A performance in the auditorium and a visit to the library at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles put me in touch with the young men and women on the cusp of majority age, ready for national service, higher education or work and family. A tour of Yosemite National Park reached our very hearts and souls, stirring up images of T.R. camping beneath the stars with John Muir.

On to Seattle, Washington and the celebration of the centennial of the Great White Fleet’s visit. When T.R. sent the sixteen battleships around the world, it announced that the United States had arrived on the scene as a world power with a Navy to back up the claim. Speak softly and carry a big stick, indeed. The celebration by the Navy and the Navy League, a T.R. inspired group, gave us all a little time to pause and give thanks for the men and women who serve.

T.R. was the first to protect Mount Olympus, now Olympic Mountain National Park, and in one day we went from the snow capped peaks of Hurricane Ridge to the moss covered rain forest at Ho and the sunset at Ruby Beach on the Pacific Ocean. The people of Washington are safeguarding a great treasure and we were blessed to perform and make new friends along the way.

It was during this time that the r.v. had the first of its major repairs, and for a few nights we camped in the parking lot of the repair center in Olympia. The need for major break repairs became evident after a reckless driver forced me to slam on the brakes and kiss the concrete wall at fifty-five miles per hour and towing the car. When touring the country in an r.v., one is fairly guaranteed that not all of the adventures will be of the planned or pleasant variety. How thankful we were to avert a collision and that no one was hurt.

We visited Portland, Oregon and the tremendous Proctor statue of TR on horseback, bidding the state not goodbye but see you soon, as we dashed off to visit northeast Washington, the panhandle of Idaho, Montana and Yellowstone, Wyoming, before returning to Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park.

Along the way, we had great adventures and a scary close call as a moving van tore through our car while Jenny was adding air to the tires in Idaho. The two week car repair in Spokane, Washington proceeded apace while we took the r.v. back and forth across the northern Rockies, hot on the T.R. trail.

No T.R. Tour could be complete without a visit to Boone and Crockett in Missoula, Montana, truly a shrine to the active pursuit of the conservation agenda, fueled still by the same love of nature known and practiced in that special way known only by outdoorsmen and hunters. In Yellowstone we enjoyed the hospitality of the Roosevelt Lodge and throughout the region we breathed in the vitality that is the mountain west. As we headed back to Crater Lake we visited more of the wildlife refuges, the first fifty-one of which have their genesis with T.R.

This blog began in Yellowstone on June 14, and a very imperfect record of our two months since begin there. I do want to fill in the holes and share stories. This much I know. The American people are a special people and this nation has a calling and a destiny, to know and act upon the higher principles so often articulated by Theodore Roosevelt and a long line of American patriots.

To get back on the road, to celebrate this heritage and to do what I might to inspire others to be the men and women in the arena, to adopt, as T.R. did, the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule, not only for one’s own conduct but for the conduct of the community, this is something into which I run with great joy and fervor. I do so hope to bring T.R. to life sometime soon where you might see it, that you might laugh and think and wonder what you might do in the cause of a greater United States of America.


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