A Memorial to Theodore Roosevelt
New statue, restored dioramas honor 26th President
The fully restored wolf diorama in The Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals. (Photo: © AMNH/R. Mickens)
If you stroll through the vast halls of New York's American Museum of Natural History, there's a good chance you'll spot a number of excited children. If you took that same stroll almost a century and a half ago, one of those captivated children would have been the future 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. A young Teddy Roosevelt would not have sported his famous handlebar mustache, but he would have demonstrated an early love for natural history.
The museum greatly inspired the adolescent naturalist, a native New Yorker and the only President born in New York City. Roosevelt's deep connections to the museum went far beyond his youth, and the relationship continues even today, almost a century after Roosevelt's death.
The museum reopened its newly restored Theodore Roosevelt Memorial and Hall of North American Mammals on October 25 after a three-year, $40 million renovation. The restructuring included restorations of three murals depicting incidents in Roosevelt's life and the addition of a new statue of the President. The museum also did major work on the hall's world-famous dioramas, which haven't been repaired since 1942.
A Museum-Made President
Roosevelt and his father were heavily involved in the founding of the museum. In fact, the original charter for the museum's development was signed in the Roosevelt home.
According to Ellen Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History, Young Theodore was so interested in nature that at the age of 13, "He created his own Roosevelt Museum of Natural History in his home, and then donated, charmingly, one bat, 12 mice, a turtle, a stone, a red squirrel, and four bird eggs."
Museum curator Dave Thomas said Roosevelt "literally grew up in these halls." And he never really left.
After being elected President, "some of his first calls were to the natural historians here," Thomas said. Roosevelt enlisted the help of Frank Chapman, the museum's curator of birds and mammals, to create the nation's first wildlife refuge.
While in office, Roosevelt virtually created modern environmentalism. He helped save entire species from extinction and protected more than 230 million acres of national land.
Roosevelt even saved one of the world's natural wonders.
|(top) Museum artist Stephen C. Quinn mixes pigments, which he used to re-create the illusion of "Moon shadows" on the wolf diorama's "snow." (©AMNH/R. Mickens); (bottom) Using a carefully researched dye mixture, Quinn applies the finishing touches to an Alaska brown bear. (©AMNH/D. Finnin)|
"He did things like this over and over again," Brinkley said. It was Roosevelt who saved the Dry Tortugas off of Florida, the Louisiana offshore islands, the westernmost islands of Hawaii, and other land reserves as big as West Virginia and Alaska. He also saved Mount Olympus in the state of Washington with an executive order only 48 hours before leaving office. "We can go on and on and on," Brinkley added.
The museum also served as a think-tank to the former President. If Roosevelt was looking for a way to repopulate buffalos in the West, or was in need of ways to save a species from extinction, the Museum of Natural History was his go-to place for problem-solving.
Exploring the Natural World from the City
Today, the museum remains a haven for learning and gives kids living in the big city a chance to observe and appreciate nature. According to Futter, museums are crucial for a child's development because "places like this are instrumental in teaching our city kids about nature and conservation within an urban environment."
The institution opens up a natural world in New York for young people, added Brinkley, "and they respond to this museum." With hundreds of exhibits spread throughout the museum's conservation wing, visitors have a number of dioramas to immerse themselves in.
Each diorama represents a "tremendous amount of resource from background artists and scientists," said museum taxidermist and restorer George Dante. "Each diorama is a specific time and place."
But like much of the wildlife displayed across the museum's walls, the diorama is itself something of an endangered species.
"This, I hate to say, is a lost art," Dante said.
The museum is now devoting a large portion of space to the former President, who always kept his heart invested in natural history.
"This building and its sense of exploration, its science and love of nature," Brinkley says, "is what fueled Theodore Roosevelt."
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