The Rough Writer

News for and about the Volunteers at Sagamore Hill
Volume 24, Issue 1
February 2022
The Rough Writer is a volunteer newsletter, not an official National Park Service publication. It should not be used for historic research. 

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"There can be no life without change, and to be afraid of what is different or unfamiliar is to be afraid of life."
Theodore Roosevelt
TR statue being removed from the front of the American Museum of Natural History in New York (photo: Reuters)
As we inch closer to year 3 of the pandemic that has dominated so much of our lives and curtailed Park activity for visitors and volunteers alike at Sagamore Hill, we have good reason to hope that Covid restrictions might be eased by spring, depending on infection rates and Department of Interior regulations. With that hope in mind, Chief of Interpretation “Whitt” Whittaker and Park Guide Laurel Brierly have prepared training programs for returning volunteers, the first of these having been held virtually on January 26. This first "training" session emphasized National Park Service "best practices" for the visitor-driven experience.

At present, Old Orchard remains closed to visitors, and only ranger-led tours, limited to 4 guests per tour, are offered Thursdays through Sunday and by reservation only. Superintendent Jonathan Parker spoke with the Volunteer Advisory Board on February 23 and shared that the park expects to expand tour capacities beginning in March and is currently planning for a reopening of the Old Orchard Museum this spring. Whitt and Laurel emphasized that as we move into late winter and early spring, other opportunities for volunteers will open up. Some of these interpretive activities might include roving with informal contact with visitors, guided grounds walks, and weekend Junior Ranger programs. The Natural Resources division will also need assistance in monitoring native species and natural habitats as well as gardening assistance. The date for the next volunteer information update is March 10, and volunteers should watch your email for additional details. This meeting will provide a comprehensive update on the park's plan, as well as a timetable for volunteer reentry beginning in mid-spring.

On January 19 and 20, the planned removal of the bronze statue of Theodore Roosevelt, which had stood at the Central Park West entrance to the American Museum of Natural History since 1940, was completed. Although the intent of the original sponsors of the statue in 1925 was to memorialize TR as a naturalist, the statue itself and the figures flanking the mounted Roosevelt – a Native American and an African man – appeared to glorify something different: American colonialism and racial hierarchy. Controversial from the time it was installed, this statue became a flashpoint for protestors and advocates in recent years. Theodore Roosevelt V supported the Museum’s decision to move the statue, saying the statue’s removal to the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library (slated for completion in 2025) in Medora, North Dakota, was appropriate. “Rather than burying a troubling work of art, we ought to learn from it,” he said in a statement shared by the library. “It is fitting that the statue is being relocated to a place where its composition can be recontextualized to facilitate difficult, complex, and inclusive discussions.”(Wall Street Journal, 1/20/22) The American Museum of Natural History remains New York’s official memorial for TR, with its Roosevelt rotunda, and memorial hall.

January was also a month of loss for Sagamore Hill. The death of Milton Elis, long-time volunteer, supporter, and unofficial historian, has touched all who knew him. We all benefited from his curiosity and his depth of knowledge, his sense of humor, and his sincere kindness. On behalf of the Sagamore Hill volunteers and staff, we extend our condolences to his family and his many friends.
Nancy and Charlotte
by Nancy Hall
Whenever I saw Milton, whether in Old Orchard for meetings, on the grounds of Sagamore Hill, in the back office of the TRH, or at volunteer events, he always greeted me with a wave, a smile, and a question: “How’s your husband?” That was typical of Milton – cheerful and sincerely personal. Laura Cinturati has described him as an “unofficial grandpa”; for many of us he was the favorite “uncle”. He was always, also, “the man with the camera.” That was what I called him when I first became a volunteer and did not know who this man was who wanted to take my picture.

Of course, I quickly learned that not only was he the go-to volunteer for almost any question about Theodore Roosevelt or the TRH, but that he and that camera were responsible for archiving much of the Sagamore Hill volunteer experience and history. He also became a trusted friend who, upon his retirement from full-time volunteer service and as editor of the Rough Writer, entrusted its legacy to Charlotte Miska and me.
Along with his interest in the lives of his fellow volunteers, Milton and I would often stay long after a Volunteer Advisory Board meeting had ended, and he would share stories of his own family. But it was only after his death when his daughter Janet sent his completed autobiography to Laura Cinturati, and then, she to us, that I came to appreciate the fullness of this man’s remarkable life and memory: his rich family life lovingly recalled in childhood anecdotes, his remarkable and varied careers – from cheesemaking to training in radar and ordnance during the Korean War (“I saved Baltimore from the bomb,” he would joke!); to a career with the Department of Economic Development and then teaching classes in How to Start Your Own Business at CW Post and establishing Post’s Small Business Institute. There was so much more, but Milton would say (as he often did when giving me advice about articles in the Rough Writer), “KEEP IT SHORT” – a tough piece of advice to follow when talking about Milton. Along with his family and his beloved wife, Barbara, Milton devoted his life to serving his congregation at North Shore Synagogue, where he is remembered for his willingness to assume leadership responsibilities as varied as temple president, youth group leader, adult education speaker, and leader of groups for older members of the congregation.

When Milton first joined the military, his Uncle Oscar offered him this advice: “NEVER VOLUNTEER.” Luckily for us and all the many organizations he was associated with, he ignored that advice, especially when, at age 65, Milton began his last “job” as a volunteer at Sagamore Hill. From 1996 until December 2019, Milton worked first in the curatorial division and then, five months later began giving tours of the TRH. When he was elected to the Volunteer Advisory Board in 2002, he began writing for the Rough Writer, becoming its editor, and then Board president, serving in that position for 18 years.

Never one to toot his own horn, Milton was far more likely to tell a joke at his own expense than brag about his achievements. Toward the end of his autobiography, Milton recalls some of the more humorous encounters with visitors to the TRH. For example, for a group of Asian visitors, he thought he would show off his linguistic skills by bidding them farewell in Japanese. After he said, “Arigato” the group’s guide whispered, “Mr. Elis, that was Japanese; we are Korean.” On another tour with a group of Cub Scouts, Milton met them at the door by repeating the Scout Oath: “I will be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” Then he laughed and said, “I can remember all of that but not what I had for breakfast!” And throughout the rest of the house tour, one Cub Scout repeatedly asked him, “Mr. Elis, what DID you have for breakfast?” Or the time Milton was speaking to visitors near the kitchen and casually rested his hand on the banister only to discover fairly quickly that a baby held by one of those visitors had leaned in from her mother’s arms and was sucking on Milton’s finger.

Of all the roles Milton assumed in his life, he wrote that his favorite was that of teacher. Whether to Cub Scouts or to visiting dignitaries or to ordinary Americans and tourists from abroad, he dearly loved to share his knowledge of Theodore Roosevelt, and the North Room especially.

So, “Mr. Elis,” it doesn’t matter what you had for breakfast, whether you spoke Korean or Japanese, we will miss you, your jokes about yourself, and your generosity and dedication to Sagamore Hill and to those who knew and loved you.
Memories of Milton

Jonathan Parker: While I only met Milton briefly during my detail in early 2020, I know he was very passionate and proud of his contributions and relationship with Sagamore Hill as an official park volunteer. Milton was a leader and advocate for the Rough Writer newsletter, a volunteer in both the Interpretation and Cultural Resources Divisions, and a "keeper of histories" through his photography, collection of Sagamore Hill news clippings, and working relationships with numerous staff and volunteers over many years. The park will be naming a future volunteer award in Milton's honor to recognize his significant influence and contributions to Sagamore Hill over 25 years of service.
Laura Cinturati: Sagamore Hill won’t be the same without Milton, but I know that Milton can always be found by flipping through back issues of the Rough Writer or by looking out into his favorite place at Sagamore Hill, the North Room.
Patrick Teubner: Milt was a great guy. He sometimes worked the Friday morning tour shift with me and Arlene Yarwood. My favorite memory is the morning after the 2018 Volunteer Christmas Party, which Joe Wiegand attended; Joe showed up the next morning at Sagamore Hill to greet visitors. A photo was taken to commemorate the event. L to R: Milt, the Colonel, myself, Arlene, and Jeremy Hoyt. Really special. RIP, Milt.
Steve Gilroy: A great guy with incredible knowledge and a wonderful sense of humor. He will be sorely missed. Sagamore Hill must truly be a very special place to be so loved for so long by so many people like Milt, Adrian Bogart, and all of us.
Ginny Perrell: Milt has been a leader and mentor to so many of us over the years that his influence will always be with us in one way or another. When he chaired the VAB I remember every meeting he'd take time for what he called "Good and Welfare" during which he would bring all of us volunteers up to date on the lives of our colleagues. From trips to special life events to health status, he kept us all informed and in the loop. This is why we have all shared a friendship, as well as a common interest in Theodore Roosevelt over so many years.
Joe DeFranco: One of my fondest memories of Milton is when Jeremy and I visited him at his home to deliver an award that Jeremy had made up especially for him. He spoke with us in a very humble manner about his accomplishments at Sagamore Hill. To him it was all about call of duty for a place he loved. To me, his tour of the North Room article is priceless and should be a must read for all volunteers. I have it and see it as volunteer gold.
From Barbara Elis
Thank you to all of Milton’s many friends and colleagues at Sagamore Hill for your donation to North Shore Synagogue in his memory. He so enjoyed working with all of you. You were a special family to him. He cherished his time spent at the Site.
With love, Barbara
After completing her MBA at Stony Brook University, former SAHI ranger Marie Clifford spent six months working at Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park in Cornish, New Hampshire until November 2021. Marie has now returned to Sagamore Hill, this time as an Administrative Support Assistant, working with Chief of Administration, Julie Abbate. Welcome back, Marie.
Museum Technician Laura Cinturati's son Frankie celebrated his second birthday on February 15, 2022. Here he is celebrating with his Mom and Dad (Frank).
by Patrick Teubner
Well, that was extraordinary.” That’s all I could think of to say after listening to Ken Burns, Geoffrey Ward, and Harold Holzer for close to an hour, discussing their work, providing their incredible insights into historical figures and events, and, a personal highlight, finally finding out the origin of the song, Ashokan Farewell, used as the primary theme of The Civil War. After thanking them for their remarkable conversation, I signed off, but not before Ken Burns, himself, said, “Thank you, Patrick.” That was memorable.

So, what does it take to produce a Zoom event featuring Ken Burns and Geoffrey Ward? The first step is to ask them if they would be interested, something I put off for the better part of 2021. Luckily, Brian Tadler kept reminding me to reach out. I already had Geoff’s email address since he participated in a virtual Zoom event for The Friends of Sagamore Hill with Harold Holzer, in February of 2021. And Ken and Geoff had both participated in a live fundraising event at Sagamore Hill sponsored by FOSH in June of 2014, in support of the premiere of The Roosevelts: An Intimate History on PBS.

In early October 2021, I sent an email to Geoff asking if he and Ken would be interested in reprising their fundraising event, virtually this time, to discuss a topic of their choosing. Not only did I get a positive response from Geoff, but also an email from a Production Assistant at Florentine Films, Ken Burns’ production company, expressing Ken’s interest in participating. (I never received an email directly from Ken; everything was handled through intermediaries.) In short order, a date and time were chosen (2/2/22 at 7 p.m. ET), a topic (Ken and Geoff discussing their many collaborations, including The Civil War, The Roosevelts, etc.), a title for the event (Making History On-Screen), and a moderator (initially, former Congressman Steve Israel, who had to bow out due to a schedule conflict; then, fortunately, Harold Holzer, a good friend of both Ken and Geoff).

Promotional materials were developed in mid-December, and were printed and ready for distribution right after the new year began. With the help of the entire Board of FOSH (special thanks to Charlotte Miska for picking up the banners and distributing them to the Board), the promotional banners were posted wherever there was an empty space on a community bulletin board or storefront window in Oyster Bay (including Theodore’s Books and Southdown Coffee) and other locals. Local newspapers and social media were used to promote the event, as well as email groups (FOSH members, SAHI volunteers, TRA members, attendees of previous FOSH virtual events, lawyers, teachers, etc.).

Since this event was being billed as the kick-off to our year-long Fundraising and Membership Drive, it was necessary to make it as easy as possible for attendees to either join The Friends or make a donation. In early October, Jay Perrell and I had figured out how to accept memberships through our website. Then we spent a good amount of time in December and January nailing down how to accept donations through the FOSH website using GoFundMe. Just in time, the membership and fundraising apparatus was in place.

February 2, 2022, 6:30 p.m. ET: a half hour before the big event. Geoff, Harold, Ken, and I had agreed to meet briefly just to address any technical difficulties and review how the event would proceed. I started the Zoom meeting at around 6:25 PM, and waited. Then, at 6:30 PM, Geoff Ward appeared on screen, then Harold Holzer, then, well, there he is, Ken Burns, my first direct contact with him. We quickly reviewed how the evening would progress, and there were no technical difficulties. But Ken, Geoff, and Harold are old friends who had not seen each other for a while, so they just talked and caught up, while I just sat there and thought, “If they just chat like this for an hour, this is going to be an extraordinary event.” And, of course, they did, and it was.
Patrick Teubner
Ken Burns
Geoffrey Ward
Harold Holzer
If you missed this event or want to experience it again, please click the button below and then scroll down until you see the Ken Burns video:
by Nancy Hall
A Month of Tragedy and Triumph in the Life of Theodore Roosevelt

February 9, 1878 – Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. died at age 46 of gastrointestinal cancer. TR was not informed of his father’s illness until just before the end. He immediately took a train back to New York, missing his father’s death by just a few hours. After his father’s death, TR became the head of his family and assumed his father’s nickname, “Thee”.
February 14, 1880 – George Cabot Lee formally announced the engagement of his daughter, Alice Hathaway Lee, to Theodore Roosevelt. When Alice accepted TR’s proposal, he wrote in his diary, “I don’t think ever a man loved a woman more than I love her….” The couple married on TR’s 22nd birthday, October 27, 1880. They were married less than four years.
February 12, 1884 – Alice Lee Roosevelt gave birth to their first and only child, a girl. At first, the infant was simply called “Baby Lee,” but was later named Alice after her mother. Two days later on February 14, 1884, and exactly four years from the day they became engaged, the young mother died of Bright’s disease just hours after her mother-in-law, Martha Bulloch Roosevelt, died of typhoid. TR memorialized this dark day with an X in his diary and later wrote, “The light has gone out of my life.”
February 17, 1906 – Alice Roosevelt married Congressman Nicholas Longworth in a White House ceremony. She was 22; he was 37. Longworth, a colorful figure and “man about town” before and after his marriage to Alice, died in 1931; Alice, popularly lionized as “the other Washington Monument” died in 1980 at age 96. She had one daughter, Paulina, who died at age 32 in 1957.
February 22, 1909 – The Great White Fleet, sixteen steam-powered battleships, returned to Hampton Roads, Virginia after completing their 43,000-mile circumnavigation of the globe. TR was on hand to welcome the ships and sailors home from a triumphal cruise that included 20 ports of call and six continents. The extraordinary show of American naval prowess was also considered one of the greatest peacetime achievements in U.S. Naval history. (Library of Congress)
Political cartoon from The New York Herald, February 22, 1909, Uncle Sam, George Washington, and TR welcoming the Great White Fleet home to Hampton Roads, VA
by Natalie A. Naylor
An article on Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman in The New York Times on February 11, included a photograph of Blakeman standing in front of a large painting of Theodore Roosevelt addressing a crowd. The mural depicts Governor Roosevelt speaking at the laying of the cornerstone of the courthouse on July 13, 1900. The Republican Party had nominated TR to run as William McKinley’s Vice President just a few weeks earlier. The courthouse was the first government building constructed by Nassau County, which had been organized in 1899 by the three western towns of Queens County after the three eastern towns joined greater New York City in 1898. Robert Gaston Herbert (1873-1954) from Sea Cliff painted the 6-½ x 10-½ foot mural in 1938 under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Herbert painted three additional murals in the rotunda of the second floor of the courthouse and a total of twelve murals on Long Island for the WPA – the largest number by a single artist. The building on the southwest corner of Franklin Avenue and Old Country Road in Mineola was renamed the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in 2002. A larger-than-life statue of Theodore Roosevelt is now in front of the building.
Mural of Governor Roosevelt speaking at the laying of the cornerstone of the Nassau County Courthouse on July 13, 1900
July 13, 1900 - Mineola, New York - NY Governor Theodore Roosevelt lays the cornerstone for the new Nassau County Courthouse
This is not the only location where TR was commemorated in New Deal art. Theodore Roosevelt and His Children, Sagamore Hill, 1899 is one of five (2 x 6 foot) lunette frescoes by Ernest Peixotto (1869-1940) in the Oyster Bay post office. The mural includes three of the Roosevelt children. Sixteen-year-old Alice and three-year-old Quentin are not in the mural, nor is TR’s wife, Edith. The Oyster Bay post office also has a life-size terracotta bust of TR on a pedestal and two terracotta relief panels by sculptor Leo Lentelli (l879-1962). The images of animals on the Asia America and Africa-Oceania panels include a lion, rhinoceros, elephant, and buffalo, which allude to TR’s African safari and his time in the American West. The murals and sculptures were completed in 1937 for the new (1936) post office under the auspices of the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP). Visit the post office the next time you are in Oyster Bay; it is on the southwest corner of West Main Street and Shore Avenue. Be sure to look up at the ceiling for the unusual allegorical painting, North America Receiving Mail from the World.
Theodore Roosevelt and His Children, Sagamore Hill, 1899 in the Oyster Bay Post Office
For additional information on Long Island’s fifty extant WPA-era murals and six sculptures, see my articles, “Local History in Long Island’s New Deal Murals,” Nassau County Historical Society Journal 59 (2004): 1-18; and “The Legacy of New Deal Art on Long Island,” Long Island Historical Journal 17 (2004-2005): 41-70 (available on-line). TR’s “Speech at the Laying of the Courthouse Cornerstone” is reprinted in Nassau County: From Rural Hinterland to Suburban Metropolis, ed. Joann P. Krieg and Natalie A. Naylor (Interlaken, NY: Empire State Books/Hofstra University, 2000), pp. 76-77.
by Bill Reed
The Theodore Roosevelt Legacy Partnership (TRLP) held its winter Photo Walk on February 12, 2022. The 24 participants ranged in their interest and photographic skill from cell phone users to people with professional equipment. It did not seem to matter! Everyone was eager to learn about the site and capture its beauty.
TRLP President Bill Reed explained the mission of the TRLP and outlined the day’s activities. Park Chief of Interpretation, Erin Whittaker, welcomed the participants and played a National Park trivia activity with them. The participants were divided into four groups led by Brenda Cherry, Robin Wexler, Rick Elinson, and Bill Wallace. Walking past the TRH and along the old carriage road to the tennis court and then along the nature trail to the beach, the participants asked questions about the architecture and history of the site, Roosevelt family life, and the natural setting.
The weather was very mild for February and the groups were enthusiastic. Check the TRLP website and Facebook page to see some more photos. The Spring Photo Walk will be held on Saturday, April 23, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon. Registration begins in March.
Photo: Tom Viseglie
Photo: Aimee Kolenovsky
Photo: Herb Knopp
Photo: Tom Viseglie
by Charlotte Miska
Red-winged Blackbirds
The month of February has been cold and snowy, but I know spring is on its way because I have heard the easily recognizable “conk-er-ree” song of the male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). Red-winged Blackbirds are an early migrant arriving in our area in mid-February. The males arrive first to establish their territory and await the arrival of the females. One of the most abundant birds in North America, they breed in marshes, brushy swamps, and hayfields. The male is glossy black with scarlet and yellow shoulder patches that are displayed when they are singing. Females. however, are streaky brown, reminiscent of a large sparrow. As a novice birder, the first time I encountered a female, I thought it was an entirely different species! The males are so flashy that it is easy to overlook the drab females.
Red-winged Blackbird Male
Red-winged Blackbird Female
by Ginny Perrell
These last two months our primary focus has been on preparing for the February 2nd virtual event with Ken Burns, Geoff Ward, and Harold Holzer. We hope you were able to join us and enjoyed learning about the decades-long personal friendship and professional collaboration between these two creative people. The conversation flowed freely thanks to Harold Holzer. We are so thankful for the many positive reviews Friends received. (Please see Patrick Teubner’s report above for the full details.) What’s next? Stayed tuned. We will keep you posted.

At our January meeting we welcomed new board member, Dr. Jack Barnathan. Nominated by Brian Tadler, Jack brings with him a lifelong interest in and enthusiasm for Theodore Roosevelt. He was elected with the unanimous support of the board. Welcome, Dr. Jack!

Recently Brother Lawrence, Steve Gilroy, Jay and Ginny Perrell from the board met with Howard Ehrlich and Alice George of the TRA to discuss ways in which we might help each other promote our various TR-related undertakings. We hope to continue these meetings on a regular basis.

Patrick Teubner, our webmaster and Gable lecture director has been elevated to an officer position on the board. Ginny Perrell has stepped in as Vice-Chairman to fill in for Joe DeFranco as he takes a leave of absence.
Friends agreed to fund the removal, by a private contractor, of a hazardous tree at the eastern end of the parking lot. At 90-feet tall with a 3-foot diameter and badly diseased this silver maple needs to be taken down as soon as possible. (Note: The tree was taken down on February 17, 2022. It will be replaced with a new, juvenile tree to maintain the allée between the parking lot and pasture.)
Tree with rotten trunk to be removed from eastern end of parking lot
This past week, a conservator came to pick up the two silver candelabras that are on the sideboard in the TRH dining room. The conservation treatment is expected to be completed by July 1. The Board unanimously approved covering the cost of the tree removal and the candelabra restoration.

Plans are being discussed to expand the outdoor FOSH information table at Sagamore Hill to two Sundays a month once the warm weather arrives.

We are pleased to report that our current membership stands at 133.

Spring is coming…. hang in there everyone.
Instagram and Facebook
Have you checked out FOSH's Instagram page? Thanks to Brian Tadler, it is a treasure trove of interesting facts about all things TR. Brian recently linked the Instagram account to the FOSH Facebook page so you can also see his posts on Facebook too.
You can find the Rough Writer on The Friends of Sagamore Hill website ( Simply select the More about TR menu and click Rough Writer Newsletter. You will go to a page that lists the Rough Writer issues going back to January 2020. Back issues are now readily available for your reading pleasure. Thank you Patrick Teubner for making this happen.
This newsletter is produced by members of the Volunteer Advisory Board for the volunteers of Sagamore Hill National Historic Site. 
About Sagamore Hill National Historic Site
Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, located in Oyster Bay, New York, is a unit of the National Park Service. The Site was established by Congress in 1962 to preserve and interpret the structures, landscape, collections and other cultural resources associated with Theodore Roosevelt’s home in Oyster Bay, New York, and to ensure that future generations understand the life and legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, his family and the significant events associated with him.

For more information please check out our website at or call
(516) 922-4788.