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Presidents, the Other National Pastime

The following is a guest post is by Betty Lupinacci, Lead Technician for Legal Processing Workflow Resolution in our Collection Services Division.  It is part travelogue which includes a visit to an inaugural site for a US President outside Washington, DC.

What does a trip to Cooperstown, NY have to do with this week’s Inaugural theme?  Well, our short trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame turned into a journey across the center of New York State. We started in Niagara Falls, then went on to Buffalo, Seneca Falls, Syracuse, Rome and finally Cooperstown.

I was traveling with two brothers whose goal is to visit every national park in the United States and its territories.  So while in Buffalo they took me to one of the National Historic Sites there.

Wilcox Mansion in Buffalo, NY. Photo courtesy of Betty Lupinacci.

The main focus of this site is the private library in what was once the home of Ansley Wilcox and his family.  Mrs. Wilcox is purported to have held book club meetings here.  Unlike today’s book clubs, the women actually read aloud from the title they were discussing.

If not for a single event on September 14, 1901, this library and home might never have been restored and the house named a National Historic Site.  Last hint – the Washington Nationals Racing Presidents visited this house about a year ago (Teddy in 2012!).

So what about this seemingly innocuous little library made it a stopping point on our trip and worthy of mention this week?  This library is the room in which Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office following the assassination of President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901.  President McKinley died on September 14 after he sustained a gunshot wound while making an appearance at the Pan-Am Exposition on September 6, 1901.

Photo courtesy of Betty Lupinacci.

On September 13 Roosevelt was summoned from a family trip in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State.  Upon his arrival in Buffalo on the 14th it was decided he would stay at the home of his friend Ansley Wilcox.  As the then-serving Vice-President, Theodore Roosevelt was to become President under the terms of Article II, Section. 1, Clause 6 of the United States Constitution. And thus it was in the library of the Wilcox home that Roosevelt took the oath of office.

As it turns out, the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, which is jointly run and funded by the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site Foundation, was one of the better sites I have visited.  Like most places run by the National Park Service, the staff was knowledgeable about the subject matter and enjoyed sharing their knowledge with visitors.  They were excited to find that we were from Washington, DC, and that we were fans of the Washington Nationals whose mascots, the Racing Presidents, had visited the site about a year before (they even had pictures of the “Rushmore Four” from their visit).

Photo courtesy of Betty Lupinacci.

What made this site even more interesting was that, for most of the tour, the guide would only talk about and address questions relating to the days immediately preceding and following the assassination and inauguration. Any inquiries regarding restoration efforts or other topics had to wait until the end of the tour.

Our guide did everything possible to take us back into 1901, starting with a multimedia exhibit on the Pan-American Exposition.  We then moved on to the topic of McKinley’s assassination and our guide spoke about the politics of the time and the relationship between Roosevelt and some of McKinley’s advisors.  During this part he paused frequently to show photo montages accompanied by voice-overs of quotes from Roosevelt referencing his thoughts regarding all that was happening, together with snippets of purported conversations between and quotes by major political figures of the day.

Photo courtesy of Betty Lupinacci.

Afterwards, that there was a tour of the house which contained many original furnishings that were arranged as closely as possible to how they might have been during that mid-September. Breakfast was laid out in the dining room, and in the morning room we saw the very desk where Roosevelt drafted his first proclamation to the nation as its President.

Our tour finished on the top level of the house. Here the focus was on the Roosevelt family and Theodore Roosevelt’s Presidency.  There were displays addressing the issues of that era and various Roosevelt initiatives.  One of the rooms was even a replica of his office in the White House.

After the tour we spent another enjoyable hour chatting with the site’s staff about the building, the restoration and, perhaps more importantly, Washington baseball and #26.

Photo courtesy of Betty Lupinacci.

So that’s how a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame turned into an Inauguration Week blog post where I was reminded not all Presidential Inaugurations have taken place in Washington, DC.

Even if baseball isn’t your passion, this historic home would make a trip to New York outside of the Big Apple or Niagara Falls a worthy endeavor.

One Comment

  1. Megan
    January 17, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    Thanks for bring our attention to this site. I’m intrigued and would like to visit. The tour sounds as if much thought went into creating it and making it enjoyable.

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