Sunday, September 28, 2008

TR Honored with Historic Street Banners in Downtown Oyster Bay

Theodore Roosevelt has returned to Oyster Bay, though this time it is not by horseback or train. TR's face is on 40 new street banners lining Audrey Ave and other major streets downtown.

The photograph of Roosevelt on the banners is taken from around the time he organized and led the First United States Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, better known as the Rough Riders. This regiment was formed after Spain declared war on the United States in 1898 and valiantly served its country in Cuba.

Included with TR's picture is text that reads, "Welcome to Oyster Bay, 1653" and "Home of Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States." The purpose of the banners is to create a welcoming and inviting feeling for people visiting the downtown.

Roosevelt himself would frequently pass through the downtown area, going from the Oyster Bay Railroad Station to his home at Sagamore Hill about 3 miles away. Roosevelt had offices as Governor and President, first in the Octagon Hotel, then the Oyster Bay Bank Building, and finally in the Moore's Building where the popular Wild Honey restaurant is located today.

According to Jim Bruns, president of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, "TR will always be a part of Oyster Bay's past, present and future. It was his hometown, where he raised his family, where he worshipped and where he wished to be buried. Today, TR's legacy can be seen throughout the hamlet."

The Oyster Bay Main Street Association was responsible for managing the banner project. Since 2001 the Main Street Association has worked on improving public spaces, facades, and signage. They have also encouraged collective marketing of the many historic cultural attractions in and around Oyster Bay.

Main Street President Bill Sheeline says about the project, "this is a perfect blending together of our interests in history, preservation, and improving the hamlet."

The Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce and Theodore Roosevelt Association also supported this project. Alex Gallego, President of the Chamber said, "we should celebrate our relationship to TR because this is one thing that makes us different from every other place."

This year also marks the occasion of the 150th anniversary of TR's birth. Among the events to celebrate this milestone will be an old-fashioned hometown parade on Saturday, October 25 at 1pm, starting at the Boys and Girls Club on Pine Hollow Road and ending at the Derby-Hall Bandstand.

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site will have a "Family Festival" on Sunday, October 26, with traditional music and storytelling, children's crafts and activities, demonstrations and exhibits, pony rides, and food vendors. A "Birthday Celebration" on Monday, October 27 from 11am-4pm will feature a flag raising ceremony, the U.S. Navy Band, a commemorative postal station, and birthday cake cutting.

Opportunity to Assist in Beautification

Banners are the latest addition to ongoing efforts meant to beautify and improve the hamlet. This past spring volunteers from several area organizations were involved in a Community Clean Up Day to keep the sidewalks and streets looking clean. Forty hanging flower baskets were soon added to lampposts downtown, bringing beauty and color to Oyster Bay throughout the spring and summer months.

In an effort to keep pace with the season, mums and other fall-appropriate decorations will be added to the downtown in the coming weeks. Then for the holidays the traditional decorations will be supplemented by 30 additional snowflakes added at special locations along Route 106 and leading into town.

Volunteers are welcome to participate in a Community Clean Up on Saturday, October 4 at 9am. A group will gather at the Derby-Hall Bandstand and then disburse to locations throughout the town.

Those who would like to participate in beautification activities in Oyster Bay or who wish to make a contribution are encouraged to contact the Oyster Bay Main Street Association at 516-922-6982 or visit and make an online donation.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Man Who Would Be Teddy Roosevelt, and Is

Article as featured in the New York Times, highlighting Oyster Bay personality James Foote...

A Man Who Would Be Teddy Roosevelt, and Is
Published: July 27, 2008

WHEN James Foote opens his closet, he has lots to choose from: a Spanish-American War uniform, hunting attire, a frock coat, a pith helmet, a Rough Rider campaign hat, a Panama hat, and top hats, both silk and beaver.

Mr. Foote, 59, who lives in Sea Cliff, needs it all, as he logs 20,000 miles a year portraying Theodore Roosevelt in speeches and interviews. He has been playing T. R. for more than 30 years, from Huntington High School to a White House Easter Egg Roll.

Recently, Mr. Foote took part in a National League of Cities event at Mount Rushmore, where he saw his friends “the Rushmore Boys,” as he calls them — re-enactors who play Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington, the presidents whose faces are carved on Mount Rushmore along with Roosevelt’s. “Jefferson,” Mr. Foote said, “is one of my best friends.”

Mr. Foote has also been seen on the History Channel, C-Span and “The Colbert Report,” on which, as Mr. Foote recalls it, Stephen Colbert asked him if the Spanish-American War was a great imperialist war or the greatest and if Roosevelt had anything to apologize for. “I have nothing to apologize for,” Mr. Foote said firmly.

The life and legacy of Roosevelt, the 26th president and New York’s 33rd governor, are being remembered this year, the 150th anniversary of his birth. Mr. Foote will be busy at the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, Roosevelt’s longtime home here, helping to celebrate. The culmination begins on Oct. 25 and ends on Oct. 27, Roosevelt’s birthday.

On July 4, Mr. Foote gave speeches both at Sagamore Hill and in downtown Oyster Bay.
“By Jove, isn’t it a bully day for a celebration of the birth of this nation?” he declaimed from the bunting-draped Derby-Hall Bandstand here, his pince-nez glinting in the sun.

Afterward, to the strains of the “Sagamore Hill March,” he strode into the crowd shaking hands, patting children on the head and having his picture taken.

“We almost feel as if he is Teddy Roosevelt, he’s been doing this so many years,” said Ann Wulff of East Norwich, who has seen Mr. Foote at many community celebrations.

He looks very much like Roosevelt, who died in 1919. Mr. Foote, who likes to visit Sagamore Hill, occasionally startles people when he shows up on the porch.

“People might think they have seen a ghost, he has such a physical resemblance,” said Charles Markis, Sagamore Hill’s chief of interpretation. “They’re sitting on chairs and he comes out, and they get this expression on their face.”

Once during a speech he was giving, an elderly lady asked Mr. Foote when he was going to give women the vote.

Mr. Foote grew up in Glenwood Landing. Two weeks after graduating from North Shore High
School in 1968, he was in the Navy. He returned home in 1972 and became a machinist.

It was the alchemy of a mustache and new glasses in 1975 that unexpectedly transformed him into a dead ringer for Roosevelt. Mr. Foote, who had a love of history but no particular interest in Roosevelt, was asked to march in a parade as the president, and his life as a re-enactor began.

It included working and volunteering at Sagamore Hill, which he still does occasionally. He studied Roosevelt and committed scores of his speeches, letters and writings to memory.

Playing a larger-than-life man has not swelled Mr. Foote’s head. “You can’t help feeling inadequate,” he said. But he and his muse share similar interests: “I keep active. I like to hike. I’m kind of a big kid too.”

Mr. Foote draws on his repertory of speeches and other writings with great accuracy, said John Hammond, Oyster Bay’s town historian. “One thing people really don’t realize is how much of a Theodore Roosevelt scholar Jim is,” Mr. Hammond said.

He called Mr. Foote’s effect on children “enormous.”

“It’s like a teacher in a school,” Mr. Hammond said. “They don’t know the impact they have. You’re planting a seed.”