American Museum of Natural History: Theodore Roosevelt Memorial

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Roosevelt’s Role in the Museum►

Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., father of the 26th president of the USA, donated his time and money to many philanthropic causes in his short lifetime. Because of his oldest child’s scoliosis, he founded the New York Orthopedic Hospital to further development of treatment for physical defects.

He also helped found the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Albert Smith Bickmore, a zoologist, proposed in 1869 a natural history museum in NYC and won the support of Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, and others. The museum first opened in the Central Park Arsenal in 1871. It moved to its present location on Central Park West in 1874.

The museum’s mission is “To discover, interpret, and disseminate—through scientific research and education—knowledge about human cultures, the natural world, and the universe.”

Though the senior Roosevelt died when Teddy Roosevelt was only 19, he instilled in his son his love of the outdoors and the natural world. Without Theodore Roosevelt’s devotion to conservation throughout his political career, there would be far less of the natural outdoors left to appreciate today.

The museum complex lies within Theodore Roosevelt Park, across from Central Park. There are 26 buildings with 45 permanent exhibition halls. The museum normally employs more than 200 scientists and sees 5 million visits per year.

I visited on the first day the museum reopened after shutting down for COVID for months. Unencumbered by hordes of tourists, it was the best visit I have ever had here. But I can understand how the museum is struggling financially with reduced capacity.

Theodore Roosevelt Memorial►

The museum houses New York State’s memorial to Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was the state’s 33rd Governor before he became vice president and then president upon McKinley’s assassination. Roosevelt’s greatest achievements as president were in environmental conservation. He used executive orders to designate thousands of acres of public lands, bird and game reserves.

The memorial opened in 1936 and has three parts: TR Memorial Hall, TR Rotunda, and the plaza on Central Park West. Memorial Hall explores Roosevelt’s journey from a young naturalist to a proponent of conservation. The rotunda is usually the main entrance and displays quotes by Teddy Roosevelt.

The plaza has been the source of controversy for years and has recently come into focus again. The central statue is of Theodore Roosevelt on horseback, flanked by an African and Native American figure carrying rifles. The sculptor claimed at the time that these figures were there to symbolize TR’s ‘goodwill towards all peoples.’

Today, most disagree and see the statue as a racist, hierarchical representation. While Theodore Roosevelt moved us forward on environmental issues, he espoused the racist attitudes held at the time. The museum’s objective for the memorial is to celebrate Theodore Roosevelt the naturalist, not to advance a false image of him as benefactor for people of color.

In June 2020, the museum asked Mayor DeBlasio to move the statue. The statue is the property of the city even though it sits on the museum’s front steps. The city and two of Theodore Roosevelt’s great-grandsons support the request. The city has not yet announced when and to where the statue will be moved.

The world does not need statues, relics of another age, that reflect neither the values of the person they intend to honor nor the values of equality and justice. The composition of the Equestrian Statue does not reflect Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy. It is time to move the Statue and move forward.

Theodore Roosevelt IV (TR’s great-grandson and AMNH trustee)

AMNH Posts►

  • Theodore Roosevelt Memorial
  • Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples
  • Cultural Halls
  • Titanosaur!
  • Fossil Halls

Location: 200 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024
Designation: State Memorial, NRHP
Date designated/established: June 24, 1976
Date of my visit: September 9, 2020

22 thoughts on “American Museum of Natural History: Theodore Roosevelt Memorial

  1. I wish we had had time to visit this museum when we were in NYC. Next time. I had heard the tale of this statue. Amazing how thinking changes over time for sure. Thanks for sharing T. Stay well. Allan

  2. While some of his values can be soundly criticized, this President did so much to preserve and protect Natural Lands – a legacy that should not be forgotten and which benefits all of us today as your travels validate.

    1. I don’t think it’s TR who’s being repudiated, it’s the symbolism of the statue outside the museum. The one inside has him in outdoor clothes with binoculars…the naturalist who fought for public lands. The one outside would be probably be fine if not for the two figures flanking him. Even his descendants don’t want that false representation of their great grandfather to stand.

  3. Great post. I’ll have to read up on Theodore Roosevelt Sr. It must take days to go through the Natural history museum, it sounds huge. Thanks for a great post. I’m glad to hear they are moving that statue. I wonder where they will put it considering they believe it to be racist and not appropriate anymore.

    1. It is big…not as big as the Smithsonian, but still a day or two’s worth of exploring. I don’t know what they will do. Nemorino pointed out a solution the Germans had, but I don’t know that we’d be organized enough to accomplish that here.

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  5. I think we all need to look at statues from the content of the artist and what they symbolized at the time that they were created. If we removed everything everyone found offensive than we would never have any form of art up. Remember the show “Sensation” that was displayed at the Brooklyn Museum back in 2003 I believe.

    A very well known African artist did his interpretation of the Virgin Mary in cow dung that many Catholics found offensive and one patron actually painted over, defacing the art. It is up to us as educated people to have discussions about art and what it means rather than give contemporary interpretations to something created over 100 years ago.

    Isn’t that then a modern form of “Book Banning”? This is why it is important to keep statues and learn from them with new signs and interpretations mounted next to them. It helps us remember what was accepted many years ago is not who we are today. That is what we learn about ourselves.

    This was a very thoughtful post and its nice to see various opinions on art!

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I feel if the the descendants feel it’s not a fitting tribute to TRs legacy, then it doesn’t belong in the memorial. There is an interesting article in National Parks Travelers blog on removing confederate monuments from the NPS. I can’t find the link right now, but it was just published yesterday

      1. Dear Theresa,

        I agree with you that they might not be the most politically correct from today’s standards but all this erasing of history by taking a statue down does not make history go away. We have both seen that from all the historical places we have both visited on our blogs. We have to learn from it. Plus I don’t want future family members of mine to act like they know what I am thinking now. That’s their opinion in contemporary society. They never met the man, they just share his name.

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