Tuesday, December 29, 2009
On the Road: A Big Moment for Roosevelt, and Buffalo
By SEWELL CHAN
Dan Cappellazzo for The New York Times
The Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site in Buffalo, where Roosevelt took the oath in 1901 following the assassination of William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition.
On the Road
The City Room bureau chief, Sewell Chan, will be filing dispatches from some of New York State’s other cities this week.
Buffalo’s Lower West Side
BUFFALO — He was only 42, and while his previous jobs — state assemblyman, United States civil service commissioner, New York City police commissioner, assistant secretary of the Navy and governor of New York — represented a steady upward ascent, he was stunned by the circumstances that brought him to this room, a wood-paneled library in a stately home that was once part of an Army base here.
Vice President Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office in Buffalo on the afternoon of Sept. 14, 1901, after President William McKinley died, the victim of an assassin’s bullet.
McKinley had been shot eight days earlier, on Sept. 6, by an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz, while attending the Pan-American Exposition — a six-month-long international fair that represented not only America’s rising industrial might, but also Buffalo’s. Then the nation’s eighth-largest city and fourth-biggest port, Buffalo was at the center of a dense transportation system of ships and rails, and its fortunes seemed to be on the upswing.
The Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, the house where Roosevelt took the oath, reopened in June after a year and a half of extensive renovations that included the reconstruction of a carriage house, which now serves as a visitor center. The site, at 641 Delaware Avenue in the Allentown section of Buffalo, now includes numerous interactive displays that present Roosevelt’s expansive use of the presidency in proper context.
The renovated exhibition is so new that one large wall text — juxtaposing Roosevelt with President Obama — catches viewers quite by surprise. The pairing is all the more remarkable given that Roosevelt, early in his presidency, invited Booker T. Washington as the first African-American guest officially entertained at the White House.
The staff at the historic site, which is run by Molly Quackenbush, the executive director, and administered by an independent foundation under an agreement with the National Park Service, happily tells visitors about the tense week between the shooting of McKinley and his death.
Immediately after the shooting, Roosevelt, who had been on a speaking tour in Vermont, and members of the cabinet were summoned to Buffalo. There, Roosevelt happened upon Ansley Wilcox, a prosperous businessman who had acquired, through marriage, the house on Delaware Avenue, originally officers’ quarters within the Buffalo Barracks, a giant military installation built between 1838 and 1840.
At first, McKinley appeared to recover, so much so that Roosevelt left Buffalo on Sept. 10, joining his family on a vacation in the Adirondacks. Three days later, while hiking on Mount Marcy, Roosevelt was directed to go to Buffalo a second time; the president had taken a turn for the worse. He arrived in North Creek, the train station nearest to Mount Marcy, just before dawn on Sept. 14, and there learned that McKinley had died. He promptly boarded a train to Albany, then Buffalo.
The room where Roosevelt took the oath from a federal district judge, John R. Hazel — news reporters were allowed, but photographers were not permitted to record the moment — is now equipped with an audio recording that helpfully seeks to recreate the somber chatter of the moments before the oath.
The historic site is not the only federal property dedicated to Roosevelt’s memory. Many New York City residents are familiar with the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site, at 28 East 20th Street. Sagamore Hill, where Roosevelt and his second wife, Edith, made their home, in Oyster Bay on Long Island, is also a national historic site.
Sewell Chan, the bureau chief of the City Room blog and a native of New York City, is on the road this week, filing dispatches from some of New York