Theodore Roosevelt’s (Sort of) Birthplace at 28 East 20th Street


“I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot…The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.”

New York City’s only president, Theodore Roosevelt was born on this spot on October 27th, 1858. The son of a northern father and a southern mother, his childhood was spent teetering between happy curiosity (he studied nature by bringing in dead mice and snakes into the house) and familial tension (his parents were frequently at odds during the Civil War, his Georgian mother sending care packages to the Confederacy while his New York City father lobbied for improved living conditions for Union soldiers.) After the war, the founders of the American Museum of Natural History (which included Roosevelt, Sr.) would sign the charter in the Roosevelt’s parlor in 1869. “Theedie” (never “Teddy”) lived there until he was 14, when his family moved uptown to 57th Street.

While 20 East 20th Street is the site of Roosevelt’s childhood, it is not, however, the building. The original space was demolished in 1916 for retail space, but the Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association purchased the plot after Roosevelt’s death in 1919. They hired female architect Theodate Pope Riddle to create an exact replica of the former house, using the row house next door as a model. (In addition to being a renowned architect, Riddle was also one of the survivors of the RMS Lusitania torpedoing four years earlier.)

There is no entrance fee, and the museum has a great deal of Roosevelt artifacts, including glasses, letters, and books. My favorite is the shirt Roosevelt was wearing during his attempted assassination in 1912. During a stop in Milwaukee for his Bull Moose campaign for presidency, Roosevelt was shot in the chest by a New York saloonkeeper named John Schrank. However, a steel glasses case and a rolled up copy of his 50-page speech dramatically slowed down the bullet that eventually lodged three inches into his ribcage. Unfazed, Roosevelt took to the podium and insisted on giving his speech before having the bullet removed.

TODAY: Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site

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