Hermann Hagedorn (1882-1964) was one of the most prolific biographers of Theodore Roosevelt. A friend of T.R., Hagedorn served as the first director of the Theodore Roosevelt Association. Among his books about the 26th president was The Roosevelt Family of Sagamore Hill, first published in 1954.
I first was given a copy of Hagedorn’s book by a TRCP supporter. It includes a quote that I’d read a number of times before, but never tire of. Roosevelt, excusing himself from a meeting with a visiting dignitary said, “I must ask you to excuse me. We’ll finish this talk some other time. I promised the boys I’d go shooting with them at four o’clock, and I never keep boys waiting. It’s a hard trial for a boy to wait.”
With a smile on my face, I reflected for a moment about myself as a boy and all the boys I’ve known, many now with gray hair, who still can’t be left waiting. While so many works about Roosevelt detail his early life or his political life, Hagedorn’s was the first I’d read that focused on his home life, his daily interactions with his wife and children and the extended Roosevelt clan, many of whom had homes on New York’s Long Island, near Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill.
Hagedorn brings to life the president’s wild races through the woods and mad dashes down steep embankments, with his children and their cousins in tow. He writes of T.R.’s long cross-country rides on horseback and of rowing boats for hours on Long Island Sound to secluded camping spots, where the president and the children would dig clams and he’d tell stories of big game hunting and Cuba around a campfire.
Reading the book you get a sense of the rhythm of a house overflowing with visitors accompanied by an endless series of activities: children putting on plays, shooting contests, afternoon hikes and more. I especially liked learning that T.R., always ready to play, often ignoring the rules of a game (tennis for instance) in order to make it more fun or available to everybody. When I finished the book, I liked Theodore and his wife Edith a great deal more. They seemed more human and easier to relate to than they’d been previously.
Used copies of Hagedorn’s book are available through Amazon and a number of other booksellers for as little as $3, although a collectible copy in perfect condition can cost $100 or more. Either option is worth the read.