After Theodore Roosevelt’s brief funeral service in January 1919, mourners followed pallbearers up a steep grade to the burial place in Oyster Bay, Long Island. The American flag was askew on the coffin, as Theodore’s clothes often were. Today there are twenty-six steps on the hill, one for every president until him. Descendants say one of their uncles used to make them recite the presidents from Washington to TR as they walked up.
We toured Youngs Cemetery on the day after the annual Theodore Roosevelt Association meeting. Theodore and Edith, as well as many of their family members, rest here. Since it was two days after the 158th anniversary of his birth, we were able to see the wreath from the White House. Did you know the sitting president sends one to all former presidents’ graves on their birthdays?
Close by is the first national Audubon bird sanctuary. Theodore’s cousin, Emlen, donated fifteen acres to honor the president’s efforts in saving America’s wildlife and their habitats. When they were boys, the two had had their own little nature collection, the “Roosevelt Museum of Natural History,” in their bedrooms. Only it wasn’t so small, growing to about 1,000 specimens! Now people of all ages come to enjoy the same peaceful woodsy surroundings, watch birds, and learn about things Theodore loved all of his life. Four hundred children a month attend camps here during the summer.
We watched as a group of kids learned about turtles in the crisp autumn air. Certainly Theodore would have liked the program when he was their age. When he grew up, he set aside almost a quarter of a billion acres of America’s land into national parks and sanctuaries so our children, and children’s children, would be able to see them. He left to us an amazing gift. It is left to us to continue conserving it.