Friday, November 2, 2012

Happy Birthday, Daniel Boone (b. November 2, 1734)

In Winning of the West, Volume 1, Theodore Roosevelt writes:

“With Boon, hunting and exploration were passions, and the lonely life of the wilderness, with its bold, wild freedom, the only existence for which he really cared. He was a tall, spare, sinewy man, with eyes like an eagle’s, and muscles that never tired; the toil and hardship of his life made no impress on his frame, unhurt by intemperance of any kind, and he lived for eighty-six years, a backwoods hunter to the end of his days.  His thoughtful, quiet, pleasant face, so often portrayed, is familiar to everyone; it was the face of a man who never blustered or bullied, who would neither inflict nor suffer any wrong, and who had a limitless fund of fortitude, endurance, and indomitable resolution upon which to draw when fortune proved adverse.  His self-command and patience, his daring, restless love of adventure, and, in time of danger, his absolute trust in his own powers and resources, all combined to render him peculiarly fitted to follow the career of which he was so fond.”
TR wrote that Boone’s Birthday was August 22nd, Britannica notes October 22nd, and my history book and Wikipedia put the date as November 2.  I await a note back from the Boone Society.
In any case, TR named his fair hunting and conservation organization Boone & Crockett, after the two intrepid frontiersman.  It’s a good thing to know more about real American heroes of bygone days.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Twelve Days with Teddy - It's Hard to Hit a Moving Target

To give a little context to the quick travelogue below, I am posted for the summer in the Badlands of North Dakota, loving the opportunity to perform a daily TR matinee from 4-5PM Monday thru Friday.  I’ll be returning to Medora in summer 2013.  Between now and then, I will tour the country in a 2011 Ford Flex we are dubbing the Medora Mobile.  The beautiful ride will be festooned with graphics and logos telling the Medora story. 

Since I drove my 2004 Honda Accord to North Dakota, and since that car was just turning 300,000 miles and beginning to give up its transmission, I decided on quick notice to drive my car to DeKalb County, Illinois, where my mechanic would gladly buy it at a very low dollar.  I could drop by and surprise the alumni of the Roosevelt Military Academy gathering in Rock Island on my way.  That’s the sort of fun I go for, and this seemed to be the solution for the dilemma of what to do with two cars in the Badlands, needing only one to drive away.  Here goes:

The Friday afternoon matinee performance in Medora, North Dakota, was like so many others – fun for me because the audiences are great.  When the show was over at 5 PM Mountain, I began to drive east on I-94.  I drove, and I drove.  Through the night with a brief nap somewhere, I took I-35 south from Minneapolis-St.Paul and via Cedar Rapids and a visit to the Herbert Hoover Museum, eventually to Rock Island, Illinois.  Saturday evening performance for the All Class Reunion of the Roosevelt Military Academy in Aledo, Illinois – great stories here.  Drive to Fairdale, Illinois, and leave my old Honda Accord with my mechanic at 2AM on Sunday.  Take a beautiful 3 hour, ten mile hike to the Clock Tower in Rockford, Illinois.   Catch the 6AM bus to Madison, Wisconsin.  My dad picks me up and takes me to the train in Tomah, after a nice visit with brother, Josh and sister-in-law, Amy.  Take the 6PM Amtrak train back west to Williston, ND, arriving Williston at 10 AM Mountain, Monday.  One taxi and two hitch hike rides later, I made it the 150 miles to Medora, with a half hour to spare before my 4PM show. 
After the show, I hitch hiked the 16 miles to Belfield.  Tuesday morning, I hitchhiked first to Dickinson, then to the Bismarck Airport, a total of 120 miles.  My second ride was from a guy who was going to be on the same flight!  Tuesday 11AM fly to Minneapolis-St. Paul, Midway-Chicago and Manchester, New Hampshire, changing planes for each flight and arriving Tuesday night at 10:30PM.  Rental car.  Drive to Portland, Maine.  At 9AM on Wednesday, after a few hour sleep in the car somewhere, shave and change into TR’s tramping about costume in a McDonalds restroom.  Greet guests and interact on Mackworth Island in Falmouth, ME.  Attend events at Evergreen Cemetery and Baxter Woods.  5:30PM reception at the Maine Historical Society, TR performance at 7PM.  Drive to Baxter State Park in the Northwoods region of Maine.  Sleep in the car somewhere.  Arrive Baxter State Park afternoon of Thursday, camp at Moose Wood on Kidney Pond, swim in Kidney Pond, and share a performance at 7PM in the camp lodge house.   Friday morning, climb Sentinel Mountain on the southeast side of Kidney Pond and swim the pond after.  Friday at 6PM begin driving south on I-95. 
Saturday morning, after a nap in the car somewhere, arrive at the brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s house in West Hartford, CT.  Swam the pool and played basketball and some sort of “drown your uncle” ball with the nephews.  Great family fun Saturday night.  Sunday morning, drive to Newbury, New Hampshire, change into costume and perform at 4PM reception through 6PM dinner.  Saw Sewanee friend Fred Sheperd and his mom, Mary, and the grandparents of one of Jenny’s dual sport players. 
After the Sunday evening performance, I drive to Manchester, New Hampshire.  Great middle of the night breakfast at the Airport Diner and a brief food coma nap in the car after.  Monday, 6AM flight from Manchester, to Chicago-Midway, to Minneapolis-St.Paul, to Bismarck, each flight a different plane.  Arrived Bismarck at 2PM Mountain, and Medora friend Van Larson gives me a fast ride to Medora, arriving 1 minute before my 4PM matinee.  Monday night, I attempt to hitch hike to Belfield, but it’s a comedy of errors, as I head back too early to take a nap in my dressing room. 
First thing, 6AM Tuesday morning, I hitch a ride to Belfield.  I clean up and have breakfast, water the flowers, and begin the 16 mile bike ride into Medora.  Arrive Medora in an hour and a half, play basketball with Baskhar from India, swim, perform matinee for a great audience.  After dinner, I bike 16 miles back to Belfield, arriving just at dusk, headlight and tail light blazing!  Home sweet home just in time to watch Ann Romney and have a PBR with Chris Christie. 
Twelve days, seven plus performances in four states, thirty-six hundred miles by plane, two thousand miles by auto, eight hundred miles by train, three hundred miles hitch-hiking, one hundred and eighty miles of rides from family and friends, and thirty-two miles by bike.  Nearly seven thousand miles, probably done in a manner nobody else has ever done. Crazy fun.

Time to get on the bike and head into work!  Medora Mobile ready next week.
Check out

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pelican Island Wildlife Festival is a very special time for us as a family. When I left a twenty-five year career in public policy behind in my native Illinois, and TR Joe and the Teddy Roosevelt Tour first became a reality, it was mid-February 2008. During the second week of March, my wife Jenny was playing golf in the Florida Women’s Open Tournament. I was her caddy and Sam her loyal fan.

We were rv camping somewhere nearby Tampa in a nice state park. The barred owls and
sandhill cranes abounded, as did the ibis, the egret and the heron along the way. And the pelican.

My research all pointed to Pelican Island as the next stop for the TR Tour. When I called the Wildlife Service office in Vero Beach, I reached Ranger Joanna Webb and she was so nice to
invite my family to come and play a role in the Wildlife Festival planned that very next weekend.

From that first visit on, through the following years, the kindness and hospitality we received at Pelican Island characterizes just the sort of thing we try to pass on to others. At the
Pelican Island Wildlife Festival in Sebastian’s City Park, we celebrate the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt’s first federal bird sanctuary, declared in March of 1903.

The bird and reptile programs, repeated throughout the day, are always informative and entertaining, with the stars kids just love to touch and stare at. Exhibitors sell all sorts of fun
Florida items, many of them organic or nature based. Rehabilitated pelicans are returned to the wild, kayaks are paddled and yummy foods eaten. Music and dancing have been known to occur. Public servants share their conservation message. It's always a great day.

Mostly, the volunteers of the Pelican Island Preservation Society and the rangers and staff of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service get together to spend more than a day of hard work hosting one of the nation’s most wonderful celebrations of Teddy Roosevelt’s conservation legacy.

Bully for PIPS. Hope to see you on Saturday, March 17, 2012, in Sebastian, Florida.

Friday, March 2, 2012

God bless and keep Erik Dorr Johnson

Today, Friday, March 2, would have been Erik Johnson’s forty-ninth birthday. Erik was a year older than me, and we ran cross country together at the University of the South in Sewanee,
Tennessee. I say we ran together. Erik was one of those tall and skinny guys
who ran way ahead of me.

Erik was a biology major at Sewanee. When you major in the hard sciences at Sewanee, you disappear for hours and days at a time in the science building. In my day these students were “Woods Lab Rats.” Today, with Spencer Hall being added to the science and math complex, I’m not sure what they call these kids. This much I know. For over one hundred and fifty years, the
science labs of Sewanee have been producing graduates who make our world a better place.
I’ve kept touch with some of Erik’s Woods Lab compatriots. They are curing cancer, providing health services to the poor, saving endangered species and more. I wish I would have kept in better touch with Erik. He married Amy, a classmate of mine and easily the sweetest, kindest person at Sewanee. They settled in Tallahassee and had a family. Erik worked in forestry, most
recently as a Forest Ecologist with the United States Forest Service in the National Forests of Florida.

Unlike me, Erik stayed in great shape after college, always the lean and strong distance runner. He had the heart of a Viking and the soul of a brother in Christ. In October, Erik passed away, illness taking him much more quickly than doctors presumed.

My second career has allowed me to travel and perform in Florida. I helped the Friends of Ocala
National Forest celebrate their centennial in 2009. Every year, I help the Friends of Pelican
Island celebrate our nation’s first federal bird sanctuary. How I wish I would have stayed in touch and known Erik was so nearby.

Earlier this week, I visited late at night with Erik’s old college roommate here in Phoenix. The
evening was full of stories of Erik growing man eating plants in his closet and coming to the rescue of his well pickled friends. Today, I climbed Phoenix, Arizona’s Piestewa Peak, formerly known as Squaw Peak. More than one of the insanely fit runners who passed me, ascending the 2608 foot mountain, reminded me of my friend Erik. You may remember that Piestewa Peak is named in honor of Army Specialist Lori Ann Piestewa, our first female soldier to be killed in 2003 during the Iraq War. Erik and I both had the honor of running at Sewanee with Navy Lieutenant William “Tom” Costen, a Sewanee man killed in action in January of 1991, flying off the carrier the USS Ranger. All too often, the old saw is painfully true. The good die young.

When Erik passed away, his family asked that remembrances be made to one of the following organizations, all of which are integral to Erik’s life’s work: Florida Natural Areas Inventory ( ) or the Atlanta Botanical gardens carnivorous plant restoration efforts (, which benefit Florida State Parks.

God bless and keep Erik Dorr Johnson and his family. EQB and YSR!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Happy 100th Birthday, Harold Schafer

Today, February 1, in Medora and throughout the state of North Dakota, folks will gather and celebrate the life and legacy of Harold Schafer.

A graduate of Bismarck High School, Schafer left North Dakota State University to start a career in sales, helping to support his widowed mother and younger sister.

As a young man, Schafer began his own line of Gold Seal floor wax and furniture polish, adding Glass Wax and, eventually, Mr. Bubble, to the line of products. Certainly an American success story of hard work and determination, Schafer took the lead in saving, preserving and restoring first the Rough Rider Hotel and eventually most of the old cowboy town of Medora.

You can see a wonderful, brief profile of Harold Schafer here:

Every summer, hundreds of thousands of folks from around the country and around the world visit Medora and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park which is contiguous to the town. I consider it a tremendous honor to bring my interpretative performance as Theodore Roosevelt to life in Medora this summer in conjunction with the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation (TRMF), begun by Mr. Schafer, his family and friends so many years ago.

Today, as folks gather in North Dakota, celebrating the life and legacy of Harold Schafer, we can say that his example and the vitality of what he built is alive and well and in good hands. Harold’s wife, Sheila Schafer, is a vibrant dynamo and Medora’s chief cheerleader. The sparkle in her eyes and the joyfulness in her voice surely convey much of the love that Mr. Schafer had for this place and this project. Son Ed Schafer, a former North Dakota Governor and United States Secretary of Agriculture, is just one of many family and community members who continue to ensure the future of these good works. The TRMF benefits from the veteran leadership of Randy Hatzenbuehler. World class programs and exposure come to Medora via the humanities scholar and historical interpretor Clay Jenkinson and his colleagues, especially Sharon Kilzer, at the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University. Superintendent Valerie Naylor and all of the rangers, staff and volunteers at Theodore Roosevelt National Park ensure that a visit to the park is a breathtaking experience of nature, history and wildlife.

So, with so many good people putting their shoulders to the wheel, with the beauty of the Badlands and the unmatched hospitality of the people of Western North Dakota abounding, I think Harold Schafer is looking upon his loved ones and his beloved Medora on this his 100th birthday with a broad smile and a twinkle in his eye. Happy 100th birthday, Harold Schafer. Bully for you and Medora.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Hoofing it in New York City

I had the most wonderful adventure in New York City this past week. I was invited to Brooklyn, one of New York's five boroughs, by Elliot, Ivan, and Debra Schwartz, partners in StudioEIS (pronounced "ice"), which specializes in bronze sculptures.

The American Museum of Natural History in New York City has commissioned a new statue of Theodore Roosevelt. EIS Studio is producing the work, and I was hired to model for the project. The statue will be of TR the outdoorsman, seated on a bench. With an outfit modeled on TR’s at Yosemite in 1903, we tried variously having a book, field glasses, and a felt cowboy hat as props in my hands and on the bench. Using many photos of the real TR, the artist and museum will use the hundreds of photos and poses that we shot for determining some of the architecture of the statue.

If I have it right, the statue and bench will be located on the first floor of the museum’s Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall, the huge public lobby just inside the museum’s West Central Park entrance. The museum staff believes many families and children will want their picture taken with TR on the bench. I look forward to sitting on the bench with TR someday. The museum plans new exhibits of some of the artifacts from TR’s life, including some of his early taxidermy.

The trip to New York gave me a chance to do some exploring and to emulate TR’s strenuous living in the doing of it. I arrived at LaGuardia in Queens late on Saturday afternoon and took the M60 bus to Broadway and 106th on the Upper West Side. Using Gerry Frank’s Where to Find it, Buy it, Eat it in New York, given to me by the fascinatingly eclectic author, I set out for an adventure. I must have stopped to read a couple dozen plaques and monuments, as I made way southeast down Broadway, through Times Square and to the front porch of TR’s Birthplace at 28 East 20th Street, just a block west of Gramercy Park. The birthplace has been a point of pilgrimage and a place for my TR to perform. Administered by the National Park Service as a National Historic Site, the place is one of my favorites and normally displays an amazing collection of TR material. The birthplace museum is undergoing renovation now.

After a couple hours relaxing on the front steps, reading and enjoying listening to the late Saturday night conversations walking by, I picked up and kept on my walk. I visited Zuccotti Park, site of the famed Occupy Wall Street protests. The park was empty at 2:00 AM on Sunday, a lone bronze statue of a seated businessman at lunch with his open briefcase the last and most permanent occupier. I began an early morning walk around Trinity Wall Street, a visit to the grave of Alexander Hamilton there and a stroll past George Washington at Federal Hall, another NPS historic site, where Washington took the first presidential inaugural oath and where Congress adopted the Bill of Rights.

Gerry Frank writes that one of the quintessential New York experiences is to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, especially at dawn. My 5:00 AM walk across the bridge was a little too early for sunrise, but my spirits rose in the early hours of the day. The views are spectacular. David McCullough’s Mornings on Horseback and Pathway Between the Seas are very important for me as TR sources. McCullough’s Brooklyn Bridge has been equally important for me in regards to New York history. I stopped to read the name of Robert B. Roosevelt, Teddy’s uncle, listed with the other commissioners who saw the work of John, Johanna and Washington Roebling through to its completion. There seems to be a wonderful local tradition of lovers or loved ones visiting the walkway and then attaching small padlocks, engraved with dates and love messages, memories and anniversaries. The locks are everywhere, testimony to the fact that couples probably regularly occupy the handsome and empty benches I passed along the way.

Once over the bridge, I walked up to Brooklyn Heights, hoping to find some of the history of the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher (think America’s first great mega-preacher and Beecher’s Bibles, the Sharp's rifle used by anti-slavery forces in Kansas). Instead, I found the Theodore Roosevelt Federal Courthouse and some fine statuary of Columbus and Robert F. Kennedy. I kept on my way, eventually arriving at 8:00 AM at the 5th Avenue and 25th Street Gothic gates of the Green-Wood Cemetery. Once in the cemetery, I wandered up the Battle Path, and there a bronze Minerva gazes across the harbor at Lady Liberty, the former a purposeful reminder of the war won rights of the Declaration of Independence and the 1776 Battle of Brooklyn, a loss for the Revolutionaries. My quest was the Roosevelt family gravesite, mentioned by McCullough and perhaps by TR biographer Edmund Morris. It was McCullough, I think, who pointed out the irony that TR’s mother-in-law, Martha Stewart Elliott Bulloch, a Georgian and devoted Southernor, was buried among the iconic Yankees and countless abolitionists here, she going to her grave with the sadness of Confederate defeat freshly on her heart.

TR is not buried here, nor is Edith or any of the children. Teddy and Edith are in Oyster Bay among the trees of Young’s Cemetery. Here at Green-Wood lay the remains of TR’s mother and father, Theodore Roosevelt and Martha “Mittie” Bulloch Roosevelt. Teddy’s first wife, Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt, is here. Surely you know that TR's mother and wife died on the same day, February 14, 1884, when TR was just 25 years old. The east facing headstones of these three, TR, Sr., Mittie and Alice, taking more weather and sun, are nearly devoid of legible markings, but the death date of the ladies can be made out, as can portions of their respective birth dates. Very little, if anything at all, can be made out on TR’s father’s headstone, and this for a man for whom it was written the entire city of New York was in mourning at his too early departure at the age of 46. TR’s paternal grandparents are here, as is Uncle Robert and his wife and several cousins. There are twenty-two headstones in all. I found the family circle like a needle in a haystack among the 561,000 plus who rest in peace at Green-Wood. The Roosevelts are at the southeast corner of Grape and Locust amongst streets and pathways with arboreal names. I hope to help the family restore some of the headstones. Surely, history should know what was chosen to be written here in the way of verse or memorial. I hope to write with something in the way of good news on this idea sometime down the trail.

I share these two observations, indicative of the kinds of treasured insights which I think await if the others are restored. The first and smallest of the tablets is simply labeled INFANT SON of LAURA D’OREMIEULX and J. WEST ROOSEVELT born Nov. 2, 1895, for an un-named son, loved and mourned. This West Roosevelt is mentioned often as a frequent companion of his cousin, our Theodore. J. West is buried nearby in the circle, b. July 2, 1858 – d. April 10, 1896. Son of Mary West and S. Weir Roosevelt – father’s brother – J. West Roosevelt was born the year TR was born and died at 38. I’m reminded that throughout his lifetime, TR was saying goodbye to loved ones who died way too early, not only by our modern long-lived standards, but even by the standards of the turn of the century when disease and illness fought man on so many fronts.

On the opposite side of the circle was GLADYS ROOSEVELT wife of Fairman Rogers Dick, born March 10, 1889 (and) KILLED IN THE HUNTING FIELD NOVEMBER 2, 1926 – A GALLANT LIFE AND A GALLANT DEATH. This one made me wonder at the stock of the Roosevelt women and renews my commitment to get and read the book of the same name (The Roosevelt Women) by Betty Boyd Caroli.

My four miles of wandering through the cemetery made for 20 miles of hiking, backpack on my shoulders and valise in hand since the previous night. My bus ride to my Brooklyn hotel and the subsequent hot bath were a welcome indulgence after a night and morning spent breathing in the stuff of life.

How I hope that 2012 has me hiking in your neck of the woods.