Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Road To (& From) the White House

Yes, we did it. Jenny joined me and we had a great celebration of Theodore Roosevelt’s 150th Birthday with President & Mrs. Bush at the White House on Monday, October 27. All the way through it was WOW and all the way after it’s been WOW again.

It was an honor and privilege to reprise TR for the President and for an East Room full of honored guests, many associated with TR’s legacy as family, public servants and leaders. I was blessed to have met my goals: to do TR well and to bring some laughter and enjoyment to the President, his family and guests. I hope you enjoy the video clip at which includes Mrs. Bush, Professor John Cooper, TR Joe, Job Christenson, Joel Gilbertson and President Bush. If you watch the beginning closely, you’ll see Jenny, beautiful and radiant, escorted to her seat behind the President.

I could go on, ala TR’s military aide and Sewanee man Archie Butt, with a letter describing the party, but I’ll leave that to Jenny. I enjoyed meeting guests and taking pictures – the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral according to Alice, right?

Taking pictures after with President & Mrs. Bush, I actually remained in character and told President Bush, from my own (TR’s) experience, that if he felt called to a third term he should lie down until the feeling passed, though I acknowledged the need to amend the Constitution if he were so inclined. I realized I may have left the President wondering just how crazy this TR really is.

Guests were so gracious. I especially enjoyed performing for Jim Bruns, President of the Theodore Roosevelt Association (, Bob Model, Chairman of Boone & Crockett (, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne and Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer, men whose organizations highly regard TR's legacy. What a thrill to bring TR to life for a very knowledgeable and appreciative group of American patriots.

Celebrating in our hotel room with friends from the St. Lawrence River and Sewanee (Thanks, Lee, Elizabeth, Daniele, Peter & Ashley!), Jenny and I finally crashed at 4:00 AM. I was up at 6:00AM and at 8:00 AM I was showcasing for Forest Service officers in Northern Virginia. The next two and a half days were highlighted by an amazing visit to Pine Knot, the rustic Roosevelt family retreat in the mountains south of Charlottesville, on to the Theodore Roosevelt Preserve in Southeastern Ohio and the Theodore Roosevelt memorial oak in Cincinnati’s Eden Park. The fall colors, the crisp sun and the exhaustion and thrill of the days conjured windshield day dreams about the months ahead.

Today, I stopped in Spring Valley, Illinois, to visit the John Mitchell memorial, commemorating the United Mine Worker President so illustrative of TR’s Square Deal policies. The day before, October 29, is celebrated by UMW and coal families as John Mitchell Day, in honor of his birthday. So, in just a couple days, I travelled from the White House to the Illinois hometown of a coal man who earned the regard and friendship of a great American president.

It’s been an amazing road to and from the White House. I hope to see you on the road sometime soon.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Happy Birthday Theodore Roosevelt

As a native of Chicagoland (my parents met at Theodore Roosevelt High School on Chicago’s north side), I admit that my love for America’s Second City has always left me with a New York-sized chip on my shoulder when considering the city of Gotham. On Saturday, October 26, I had a New York City experience that just about washed away every bad memory associated with the 1969 Miracle Mets beating my hapless Chicago Cubs.

Theodore Roosevelt is the only United States President born in New York City, and I have a growing appreciation for the way that colossus fueled the spirit of a man who made such an impact on the world. TR’s birthplace at 28 East 20th Street in lower Manhattan, New York City is now a National Historic Site administered with great enthusiasm and skill by the National Park Service. To accommodate the collections of treasures and trophies from TR’s adventurous life, the birthplace has been rebuilt such that it is double its original size, incorporating the home of TR’s uncle, aunt and cousins at 26 East 20th Street.

The birthplace hosted a wonderful 150th birthday celebration, blocking off 20th Street between Park Avenue on the east and Broadway Avenue on the west. The pedestrian parade of families and tourists from around the city and around the world enjoyed a taste of TR and a birthday treat or two. The sight of Rough Riders on horseback and a Colt automatic gun on 20th Street announced that something special was underway at the red, white and blue bunting-clad home on the south side of the street.

Fitting for a celebration of a public man who served as President of the New York City Police Commission in 1896, a New York City Police Officer sang the National Anthem and its glorious message, born in the heat of battle, bounded off the canyon walls as the sun shone down from above. A truly splendid day followed, full of period songs, pony rides and the sounds laughter and fun. In the late afternoon, I brought TR to life in the beautiful theatre on the site’s fourth floor. Before me, with a handsome portrait and bust of TR looking on in stern approval, three young New Yorkers recited the speeches which won them scholarship prizes in the Theodore Roosevelt Oratorical Contest.

With a salute to the staff and volunteers of the National Park Service who came from throughout the many park sites in Greater Manhattan to make this wonderful day happen, Jenny and I dashed off for the American Museum of Natural History and its many Roosevelt memorials on the western parkway of Central Park. Inspired by the murals and by the equestrian statue of TR, I shared “The Man in the Arena” with an international audience, who paused in the promenade to take in just a little of the delight and the spirit that was Theodore Roosevelt.

As we get ready to perform at the White House for President and Mrs. Bush, as we celebrate the announcement that the TR Museum will indeed be built in Teddy’s Oyster Bay, as we give thanks for the many blessings we’ve known along the way in this great American adventure, I say a birthday prayer for Theodore Roosevelt – American Hero, President, Rough Rider, Conservationist, Hunter, Writer, Historian, Father, Son, Husband. We have much to live up to, America.

To learn more about Theodore Roosevelt and to support the building of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Museum and Research Center visit Come join in the fun.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The White House

There have been so many amazing, wonderful experiences on this TR Tour. They far outnumber the challenges and the hardships along the way. In recent days, we received the most wonderful invitation that serves to wipe away all memories of transmission repairs, wrong turns in the mountains and $4.50 per gallon gasoline.

On TR’s 150th birthday, I will entertain at the White House for President and Mrs. Bush and a wonderful audience in the East Room. All I can say is, “Wow!”

Soon after taking office, TR signed an Executive Order instructing the federal government to call the President’s home by the name given to it by the people: the White House. To that time, the stationery, like the government, said The Executive Mansion.

As planned by Congress and the McKinley Administration, the White House was extensively renovated, with the additions of the East Wing and the West Wing during TR’s administration. As we know, TR’s impact on the Presidency and the business done at the White House was more groundbreaking than structural and name changes.

To have the honor and privilege to entertain at the official White House celebration of TR’s 150th birthday is a wonderful capstone to this portion of the TR Tour. Jenny will be with me, as we travel down from a wonderful weekend with the Theodore Roosevelt Association in Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York. Sam will miss this moment, as she will be with grandma in Sewanee. Meanwhile, Jenny and I will focus on giving the best possible performance.

If I can bring a little TR history to life, if I can get the first family to enjoy a few moments of laughter in the midst of their amazing duties, I will have hit the mark. Here’s to TR and a wonderful visit to the White House.

In the spirit of TR, I ask you to follow your dreams, keep your feet on the ground, be a man or a woman in the arena, and leave your campground cleaner than you found it. Bully!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

TR's Square Deal & the Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902

In the fall of 1902, the United States of America was threatened by a continuing strike in the anthracite coal mines of Pennsylvania and the surrounding region. For the first time in American history, the President of the United States sought to arbitrate a great labor strike, forcing the mine owners and the representatives of the mine workers to settle a strike and subsequent lock out that threatened, in the least, to leave millions of citizens without adequate winter fuel, and, at its worst, to boil over into widespread violence and federal military intervention to seize and operate the mines.

Where previous presidents had used federal troops to literally bust strikes and labor actions by union workers, Theodore Roosevelt sought to grant the United Mine Workers a seat at the table. The story of how Roosevelt appointed an arbitration committee is, indeed, a profile in courage and innovation. Frustrated that mine owners would not agree to a position for a “mine workers union representative” on the arbitration panel, T.R. did win from the mine owners the agreement to allow an “eminent sociologist” to be appointed. Boldly, T.R. appointed John Mitchell, President of the United Mine Workers, as the “eminent sociologist” and mine owners went along with the arrangement.

On October 15, 1902, the Anthracite Coal Strike was settled. Neither side was entirely happy. Workers received a small increase in pay and little else. Mine owners continued to refuse recognition of the union. Still, disaster was averted, and T.R. asserted a right which now seems to be a presidential responsibility. When major disruptions occur between labor and management, especially in areas determined to be critical to our economic well-being, we now look to the President of the United States to bring opposing sides together, to forge a Square Deal where otherwise great harm might be done.

To celebrate, on October 15th, I planned to visit Theodore Roosevelt Junior High School in Altoona, Pennsylvania. I did so, but I was struck and saddened by the reality that Theodore Roosevelt Junior High School housed its last students this past summer. Today, the teenagers of Altoona are studying across the street in a state of the art school, renamed generically the Altoona Area Junior High School.

As I watched the wrecking crew work on the old 1923 building and as I toured the new school, I couldn’t help but feel some remorse for the fact that students would no longer have that visceral bond with history that I think comes from attending a school named after a great American. I couldn’t help but wonder if any of these children had great, great grandfathers whose jobs were saved and lives improved in the mines of Pennsylvania by the man in the White House who was committed to securing for the American worker and his family a Square Deal.

In my own mind, if the leaders of the Altoona Public Schools were looking to give their students a Square Deal, they might have done more to keep the name and legacy of Theodore Roosevelt alive on their school.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It takes more than a bullet to kill a bull moose!

On October 14, 1912, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, former president Theodore Roosevelt was shot in the chest by a would be assassin. The shooter, John Shrank, died in a Wisconsin asylum some thirty years after having been found criminaly insane.

The bullet tore through Roosevelt's jacket, through his fifty page folded speech and through his steel eye glass case. Certainly, the bullet was slowed by these items before lodging itself in a chest which the surgeon later said was amongst the most powerful he had ever seen.

Roosevelt spit into his hand. Being a hunter and seeing there was no blood in his spittle, TR knew that his lung was not punctured. Though the bullet was still in him, TR refused medical attention and demanded to be taken to the audience waiting to hear the Progressive Party candidate for president,

TR spoke for nearly eighty minutes, telling the audience, "It takes more than a bullet to kill a bull moose." Can you imagine? It is simply an honor and a thrill to portray a man who is so very thoroughly dedicated to the vigorous life, to fighting for the right and for facing danger with pugnaciousness and courage.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Of father and son - happy birthday, Kermit Roosevelt.

On October 10th, 1889, Kermit Roosevelt, third child and second son of United States Civil Service Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt and his wife Edith was born at the family home at Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York.

TR had six children, daughter Alice born just two days before Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt, her mother, died of Bright's disease on February 14, 1884. Nine months and one week after marrying in December 1886, Edith and Theodore welcomed Ted, Jr. Kermit followed and then Ethel, Archie and Quentin.

Though he was the youngest, Quentin was the first to die in 1918, the death with honor due to the fallen World War One aviator. Heartbroken, his father would die within six months. During World War Two, Kermit died in Alaska in 1943, the self-inflicted nature of his fatal gunshot being kept from his failing mother. Ted went on to have a famous civic and military career, dying while on duty, a general in the fields of France in 1944.

In 1977, Ethel Roosevelt Derby passed away after a lifetime spent in the quiet service of others, from WWI nurse in France to civil rights advocate in her final decades. Archie passed in 1979. While he enjoyed a succesful business career in his later years, he spent his youth in service to his country, being the only American soldier, as a result of combat injuries, to be declared 100% disabled in both world wars. Alice Roosevelt Longworth was the last of the children to pass, in 1980, just after her 96th birthday.

Reflecting on Kermit's birthday, I'm so very impressed with the strength and depth in the man. In both of the World Wars, he volunteered for duty with the British forces to get into the war sooner. Kermit spent many months hunting with his father in Africa in 1909 and 1910 and exploring the Amazon in 1913 and 1914. A decade after their father's death, Ted and Kermit had a tremendous hunting adventure in the steppes of Mongolia.

Celebrating a Roosevelt birthday, I pause to celebrate my father's birthday, like Kermit, October 10th. I'm not my father's oldest son, but, like Kermit, I've been blessed to join him on some special adventures. He has inspired me to follow my dreams, as an entertainer and a public servant. For a good time, visit